According to an article in the June 20 issue of the London Times by religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Wales is the first choice of the Crown Appointments Commission to be the next archbishop of Canterbury.
The paper said it had learned that Williams was the first of two names chosen by the commission at its two-day meeting in Surrey last week. The complicated and arcane process requires that commission members are sworn to secrecy, pledging to tell no one, not even family members, about the process.
The names will be submitted to Prime Minister Tony Blair in the next few weeks. He is responsible for forwarding a choice to Queen Elizabeth II, although he could return the names to the commission, regarded by most observers as quite unlikely. The queen will make a formal announcement, 'probably in the second half of July,' according to the paper.
The Times quoted a Labour Party source that said the prime minister was 'very impressed by Rowan and thinks he is a terrific theologian. Virtually every Labour MP with a Christian interest wants Rowan.' Williams is felt 'to have the charisma and catholicity necessary to lead the Church of England in the 21st century,' according to the paper's sources. And he has 'the spiritual presence to act as primus inter pares, first among equals, of the primates of the Anglican Communion in an increasingly secular age.'
If he were appointed, Williams would be the first archbishop of Canterbury appointed from outside the Church of England since the Reformation. He was born in Swansea and grew up in a family that spoke Welsh.
Williams has been identified as a leading candidate for the position in recent months, leading in surveys taken of church leaders in the church's General Synod, and even a 9-4 favorite with the bookmakers. Opposition to the appointment has come from those who 'fear that his positive stance towards the ordination of homosexuals could herald conflict and even splits in the worldwide church,' according to Gledhill.
In an interview with the Southern Cross during a speaking tour in Australia, Williams admitted that he had ordained a gay man who was living in a committed relationship. 'I am not convinced that a homosexual has to be celibate in every imaginable circumstance,' he said. 'But if that were the case, I would also want to be sure that their attitude to their sexual habits is a responsible, prayerful and theologically informed one.'
Williams pointed out that 'there are distortions at both ends of the spectrum' in dealing with sexuality issues. 'There is an attitude that says the entire historical sexual morality of the church is open to negotiation, and that really there are no fixed points. At the other end of the spectrum, there are people who say that anything which deviates an inch from the apparent plain sense of Scripture is a fundamental matter of Christian integrity.'
'I'm not happy with either of those extremes,' William said in the interview. 'I believe that there is an integral sexual morality, which the church has rightly taught, and that has to do with the fact that our active sexuality must express the fidelity of God, both in creation and in Christ. It's only within that framework that I want to discuss the question of active homosexuality as a theological possibility.'