|Rowan Williams will remain in his role during the celebrations for Queen Elizabeth's 60 years on the throne [Reuters]
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has announced that he will step down as leader of the Anglican Church.
In his announcement on Friday, Williams said he will step down from his post after 10 years as leader of the 80-million-strong global religious community by the end of the year.
The Anglican Church has been threatened with division for several years, with reformists and conservatives failing to bend to Williams' authority or attempts at consensus. Williams has struggled with divisions over issues of women's rights, gay bishops and same-sex unions.
Williams, 61, the head of the Church of England, the Anglican mother church, will return to academia, taking up a role as Master of Magdalene College, a senior role at Cambridge University. He previously taught theology at Cambridge and Oxford universities.
The normal retirement age for Church of England bishops is 70. Williams, who was appointed to the post in 2002, will step down at the end of December and take up his new role in January.
"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," he said in a statement.
Williams, who conducted the marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in London last April, will remain in place to preside over Queen Elizabeth's diamond jubilee, marking her 60 years on the throne.
The bookmakers' favourite to replace him is the Church of England's second most senior cleric, the Archbishop of York,
John Sentamu, though there are some who are against his outspoken views at a sensitive time for the church.
Another in the running is the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, a friend of Prince Charles.
But his chances may have suffered over St Paul's Cathedral's botched handling of a four-month camp by the anti-capitalist movement Occupy London on its doorstep.
This is a busy year for the Church of England, with its parliament, or General Synod, set to vote in July on the
consecration of women bishops, and a landmark Anglican agreement called the Covenant.
Williams has invested much personal authority in these issues but has suffered embarrassment in both.
He put forward a compromise on women bishops in an attempt to keep traditionalist Anglo-Catholics from taking up an offer from Pope Benedict to switch to Rome within an ordinariate.
It is still unclear what form this compromise will take, but it is more than likely the synod will vote for women bishops
after the dioceses, or parishes, overwhelmingly said "yes".
The dioceses are at the moment voting on the Covenant, an initiative put forward by Williams in an attempt to prevent
disputes between churches in North America and Africa over gay bishops and same-sex unions. But dioceses look set to vote it down.
Williams has warned that the Anglican Communion faced a "piece-by-piece dissolution" if member churches failed to
undertake to avoid actions that upset others.