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Leader of English church steps down

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivered his final sermon at Canterbury Cathedral Sunday.

Gareth Fuller /Associated Press

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivered his final sermon at Canterbury Cathedral Sunday.

LONDON — The head of the Church of England will leave office Monday after a decade as the spiritual leader of the world’s 80 million-strong Anglican Communion.

Rowan Williams, the 104th archbishop of Canterbury, will be replaced by 56-year-old former oil executive Justin Welby, the bishop of Durham. Welby’s formal consecration as archbishop has been scheduled for March.

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The 10 years in which the 62-year-old Williams held office saw him struggling to maintain unity within the Anglican Communion amid bitter disagreements over female bishops and church teachings on gay relationships.

Williams has been praised for engaging with church critics and atheists, but he has met with opposition over his opinions on controversial issues including the war in Iraq and sharia law.

Williams will start a new role as master of Cambridge University’s Magdalene College. He also will be chairman of the board of trustees of Christian Aid, the international development agency.

After his appointment last month by Prime Minister David Cameron, Welby pledged to seek reconciliation on the issues of gender and sexuality that have split the Anglican Communion.

Welby said he agrees with earlier church statements criticizing the British government’s plans to legalize same-sex marriage. But he added that he will listen carefully to the gay community. “I am always averse to the language of exclusion,” Welby said.

Welby began training as a priest in 1987. He became a deacon in 1992 and was named bishop of Durham about a year ago.

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