Dr Rowan Williams said that he it to take up the position of Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.
The possibility of Dr Williams standing down was raised earlier this year, and Lambeth Palace declined to comment on the rumours.
Dr Williams was appointed the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002. He said today: “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.
“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.
“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.”
The Archbishop has an official trip planned for the autumn, which will be among his last official functions.
Speculation will now move to a possible successor, with the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres and the Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Rev Nick Baines, leading the list of candidates.
The Archbishop of York has released the following statement: “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.
“The last decade has been a challenging time for the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. Thankfully, Archbishop Rowan is a remarkable and gifted leader who has strengthened the bonds of affection. Despite his courageous, tireless and holy endeavour, he has been much maligned by people who should have known better. For my part he has been God’s apostle for our time.
“His stepping down to pursue something he dearly loves – teaching and writing – is received with gratitude, as this will continue to be a blessing to the Church. I am delighted that he is not going far away and will continue to offer service to the Church of England and the wider Church in its witness to our society. May God’s blessing continue to be showered upon him.”
OUTLINE OF PROCEDURES FOR THE APPOINTMENT OF AN ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
The responsibility for choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury rests with the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC). Its task is to submit the name of a preferred candidate (and a second appointable candidate) to the Prime Minster who is constitutionally responsible for tendering advice on the appointment to the Queen.
• The membership of the CNC is prescribed in the Standing Orders of the General Synod. When an Archbishop of Canterbury is to be chosen there are 16 voting members
• The Chair (a layperson) – to be appointed by the Prime Minister
• A Bishop – to be elected by the House of Bishops
• The Archbishop of York or, if he chooses not to be a member of the CNC, a further Bishop to be elected by the House of Bishops
• Six representatives elected from the Diocese of Canterbury by their Vacancy in See Committee
• The six representatives (three clergy and three lay) elected by General Synod to serve as members of the Commission for a five-year period
• A member of the Primates Meeting of the Anglican Communion elected by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.
In addition, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary and the Archbishops’ Secretary for Appointments are non-voting members of the Commission.
Before the Commission first meets there will be an extensive consultation process to determine the needs of the diocese, the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. This has several phases;
• The diocesan Vacancy in See Committee will prepare a brief description of the diocese and a statement setting out the desired profile of the new Archbishop
• The Prime Minister’s and Archbishops’ Secretaries for Appointments will conduct a wider consultation exercise to inform the Commission’s consideration of the needs of the mission of the wider Church of England and the Anglican Communion.
The expectation is that the Commission will have an initial meeting around the end of May to agree its process, which is likely to continue over the summer. The number of meetings will be for the Commission to determine. The process will among other things include;
• Review of background material and results of the consultations, discussion of the challenges for the next Archbishop and, in the light of these, consideration of the personal qualities required
• Consideration of candidates
• Voting to identify the recommended candidate and a second appointable candidate, whose names will go forward to the Prime Minister.
Since 2007 the agreed convention in relation to episcopal appointments has been that the Prime Minister commends the name preferred by the Commission to the Queen. The second name is identified in case, for whatever reason, there is a change of circumstances which means that the appointment of the CNC’s recommended candidate cannot proceed.
Once the Queen has approved the chosen candidate and he has indicated a willingness to serve, 10 Downing St will announce the name of the Archbishop-designate.
The College of Canons of Canterbury Cathedral formally elect the new Archbishop of Canterbury.
The election is confirmed by a commission of diocesan bishops in a legal ceremony (the Confirmation of Election), which confers the office of Archbishop on him.
The new Archbishop does homage to Her Majesty.
The new Archbishop is formally enthroned in Canterbury Cathedral.