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New Archbishop of Canterbury Named - 2002-07-23

A renowned theologian from Wales has been named the new Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the world's 70 million Anglicans. The new head of the Church of England, Rowan Williams, will succeed George Carey who will retire in October.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair made the appointment, naming Rowan Williams, who now serves as the Anglican Archbishop of Wales, as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury.

Archbishop Williams is viewed as a top theologian who prefers to lead by consensus. He is widely viewed as a religious leader who is open and engaged in contemporary issues.

Mr. Williams acknowledged at a news conference that he has a great deal of work ahead of him. "How to speak of God in this very public position, in the middle of a culture while it may show a good deal of nostalgia, fascination, and even hunger for the spiritual, is generally skeptical of Christianity and the church," he said.

Archbishop Williams is not without his detractors. His views on social issues are seen by some in the conservative wing of the church as being too liberal. They point to his stand supporting the ordination of women and gay priests.

But Mr. Williams says he will fight for a wide, all-embracing church. "An ethos in the church, which would be more accommodating of different styles of worship, generally," said Archbishop Williams. "More willingness to be flexible about our mission techniques. But above all, what I mentioned in the statement really, a kind of confidence and a sense that this really is an immensely comprehensive vivifying vision that we have to put."

Archbishop Williams also is outspoken on world issues. He has attacked the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan after September 11 as "morally tainted," and last week signed a letter condemning an attack on Iraq as "immoral and illegal."

The current Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said he greets the appointment of Mr. Williams with joy. Mr. Carey officially retires in October after 11 years in the top job.

Mr. Williams will become the first Archbishop of Canterbury from outside England since the church broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century.