Saying that he hopes that his successor has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros. Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, will resign at the end of this year and return to academics. He will become the Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge where he can meander along the River Cam and take tea at the Orchard Garden in Grantchester far away from the turbulence of the 85-million member Communion he leaves behind. When an archbishop retires at the usual age of 70, no one bats an eyelash. But when he resigns in good health nearly a decade before normal retirement age, people sit up and take notice. It evokes the image of a battle weary pugilist whose “sponger” looks at the condition of his man and tosses his sponge in the air. The fight is over. We might as well declare defeat.
The battle, of course, was his to lose. Anyone with half an eye could see the turbulence that lay ahead for someone assuming the role of leader of the world’s second largest Communion. The same year he took office an openly gay man, Gene Robinson, was consecrated bishop of New Hampshire despite public assurances from Frank Griswold, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, that he would not participate in the consecration. Griswold went right ahead and did just that. With one part of his Communion going its own way, and thumbing its noses at the rest, while the vast majority were profoundly upset, Williams was forced to choose. Either he would take a self-imposed mediatorial role, and desperately try to keep all parties at the table. Or he would take sides, and do what he could to bring the truculent back in line.
He chose the former, with the result that no one was satisfied. Privately he held to a liberal position on sexuality, as enunciated in his well-known, though highly inscrutable, paper entitled The Body’s Grace. Publicly, he towed the line that was spelled out by Lambeth Resolution 1:10, which stated as the official position of the Communion that “homosexuality was imcompatible with Scripture.”
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