New Archbishop of Canterbury decision 'may take months'

The BBC's Robert Pigott looks at who is in contention to replace Dr Rowan Williams

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The choice of a successor to Dr Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury may not take place for several months, the Church of England has said.

It comes after speculation that the latest meeting of the panel given the task of nominating a new Church leader had not chosen a candidate.

Officials reiterated that the work of choosing a successor could go on throughout the autumn.

Dr Williams will step down in December after 10 years in the post.

The most recent meeting of the Crown Nominations Commission set up to choose Dr Williams' successor ended on Friday evening and it has not ruled out holding further meetings.

Analysis

With so much at stake in the choice of the next Archbishop of Canterbury, the lack of definite news from the Crown Nominations Commission hasn't prevented intense speculation about the outcome.

The Church has not confirmed whether or not the last scheduled meeting has ended in deadlock, but it might be significant that officials have conceded that the decision might take a lot longer to reach.

Even when there is a puff of white smoke from the secret location at which the Commission meets, it's unlikely that all its 16 voting members will be entirely happy with the outcome. That's partly because there was no outstanding candidate this time round.

But another factor making this an agonising decision, and one likely to end in some sort of compromise, is that the Commission's membership itself reflects divisions in the Church as a whole over fundamental issues, in particular homosexuality.

No announcement was expected this weekend as any successful candidate would have to be endorsed by the prime minister and the Queen.

However, in response to intense speculation that the commission had failed to agree a candidate the Church confirmed that the decision could take several weeks or even months to emerge.

Officials stressed that the group had all of autumn to decide, conceding only that it would want to avoid having no-one to replace Dr Williams when he steps down at the end of the year.

The selection will bring to an end a period of intense lobbying by Anglicans who believe the new leader will be taking over at a critical time.

The new archbishop will be male as no decision has been made yet on whether women should be able to be ordained as bishops in the Church of the England.

The Church has come close to splitting over the ordination of gay clergy and women bishops, and has struggled to maintain its membership.

There is no time limit for the decision, which will be made by 16 voting members of the commission, including clergy and lay people. No date for the announcement has been set.

Contenders for the post include Bishop of London Richard Chartres, Bishop of Coventry Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Norwich Graham James, Bishop of Durham Justin Welby, and Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu - the second most senior bishop in the Church.

Others already elected by the House of Bishops to sit on the CNC - effectively removing themselves from the running - include the Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Reverend James Newcome, and the Bishop of Gloucester, the Right Reverend Michael Perham.

The Bishop of Norwich told the BBC he was praying he was not chosen for the post.

Who is in the running?

Runners and riders

Bishop James said: "Anyone who really longs to be the Archbishop of Canterbury is probably not terribly well equipped to do the job."

An opinion poll for BBC local radio by ComRes - which questioned 2,500 people in England - suggested most people thought Dr Williams had been a good leader.

However, a quarter said he had not kept the Church relevant in modern Britain.

The election process began in March when Dr Williams announced he would be standing down.

He is due to take the position of Master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge in January.

Dr Williams was appointed the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002.

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