A fine mind with a common touch

Published September 1, 2002

Newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and his wife, Jane, at a news conference in London.

Rowan Williams, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, is said to have both a fine mind and a common touch.

Although theologically orthodox in many of his views, he has enraged conservatives, particularly in Africa and Asia, with his support for the ordination of women as bishops and for supporting lesbians and gays in the church.

According to Paul Vallely, a noted religious journalist in Britain, the fact the 52-year-old Archbishop Williams, currently archbishop of Wales, was the last choice of the incumbent, Archbishop George Carey, practically made him a shoo-in for the post.

Traditionally, the British prime minister (who effectively makes the final choice on recommendations from the secretive Crown Appointments Commission) chooses someone with qualities that are opposite to the present archbishop.

Writing in support of Archbishop Williams before he was actually chosen, Mr. Vallely said the job requires “someone who understand pluralism, and the benefits it brings, as well as being aware of the shortcomings of a society that increasingly sees consensus and tolerance as its only core values. It means embracing variety and diversity, without surrendering to a pick-and-mix spirituality that wants only the benefits of religion without any of its duties and responsibilities.”

Archbishop Williams, Mr. Vallely contended, was the only man for the job, and the Crown Appointments Commission clearly agreed.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of South Africa, had agitated for an appointment that was not British ever since Archbishop George Carey announced his retirement effective Nov. 13.

Archbishop Tutu has also been openly plumping for Archbishop Williams, whom he said was head and shoulders above other candidates.

The archbishop is a dazzling intellect and outspoken anti-war advocate. His first book was published when he was just 29, and he was only 36 when he became Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford in 1986.

After a career as an outstanding professor of theology at both Cambridge and Oxford universities, Archbishop Williams was elected bishop of Monmouth in 1991 and in 1999 was elected archbishop of Wales.

This appointment will be the first time that a Welshman has been elevated to Canterbury, and marks a departure from the historic tradition of choosing only an Englishman.


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