BRITAINS’S Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has announced he is to step down after ten years as he admitted that the row over homosexuality in the Church has been a "major nuisance".
Dr Williams, 61, will leave at the end of December to take up a new role as Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge next January. The Queen, Supreme Governor of the Church of England, has been informed.
His reign has been plagued by bitter rows over gay clergy and women bishops that have left him struggling to prevent the Church from unravelling.
Explaining his reasons for leaving, Dr Williams admitted that "crisis management" was not his "favourite activity" but denied the rows over homosexuality had "overshadowed everything".
But he said: "It has certainly been a major nuisance. But in every job that you are in there are controversies and conflicts and this one isn't going to go away in a hurry. I can't say that it is a great sense of 'free at last'."
Dr Williams said his successor would need the "constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros".
It was December 2002 when he was confirmed as 104th Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the 77-million-strong Anglican Communion.
Lambeth Palace said he would continue to carry out his duties until the end of the year while the Crown Nominations Commission would consider "in due course" the selection of a successor.
He described the Church of England as a "great treasure" which was still a place where many people sought inspiration and comfort in times of need.
"I would like the successor that God would like," he said. "I think that it is a job of immense demands and I would hope that my successor has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros, really.
"But he will, I think, have to look with positive, hopeful eyes on a Church which, for all its problems, is still, for so many people, a place to which they resort in times of need and crisis, a place to which they look for inspiration.
"I think the Church of England is a great treasure. I wish my successor well in the stewardship of it."
In a statement issued by Lambeth Palace, he added: "It has been an immense privilege to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury over the past decade, and moving on has not been an easy decision.
"During the time remaining there is much to do, and I ask your prayers and support in this period and beyond."
He added that he was grateful for all the support he and his wife Jane had received.
"I am abidingly grateful to all those friends and colleagues who have so generously supported Jane and myself in these years, and all the many diverse parishes and communities in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion that have brought vision, hope and excitement to my own ministry," he said.
"I look forward, with that same support and inspiration, to continuing to serve the Church's mission and witness as best I can in the years ahead."
Dr Williams' return to academia will mark the end of more than 20 years as a bishop and archbishop. He was consecrated bishop of Monmouth in 1991 and elected archbishop of Wales in 1999.
His departure comes after tensions within the Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality.
The Church of England General Synod also looks likely to give final approval in July to legislation introducing women bishops, with the threat of further walkouts by traditionalists.
Dr Williams' predecessor, Lord Carey, held the post of archbishop of Canterbury for 11-and-a-half years and retired at 66 in 2002.
He said: "At the end of this year I will have been 10 years in post as Archbishop and just over 20 years as a bishop - that is part of it, feeling that after 10 years it is proper to pray and reflect and review your options."
He added that there were a number of "watersheds" this year, such as the forthcoming vote by the General Synod, the National Assembly of the Church of England, on whether to give final approval to legislation introducing women bishops.
"A number of what I call watersheds seemed to make this a reasonable moment, at least, to think about moving on," he said.
"When a possibility arrived that looked credible and attractive, it seemed right to think about it."
The next Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops from around the world would be in 2018 and leaving at the end of the year would give his successor time to prepare for it.
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, said: "It is with great sadness that I received the news that the Archbishop of Canterbury will be stepping down at the end of this year.
"Our partnership in the gospel over the past six years has been the most creative period of my ministry. It has been life-giving to have led missions together, gone on retreats and prayed together.
"In his company I have drunk deeply from the wells of God's mercy and love and it has all been joyful. He is a real brother to me in Christ."