At the end of 2012 when he retires to Magdalene College, Cambridge Rowan Williams will have been Primate of All England for a decade. He did not need to retire until June 14, 2020. Various commentators after the announcement of his return to academe in a prestigious but largely honorary role described the post of Archbishop of Canterbury, primus inter pares of the Anglican Communion, as an “impossible job”. But, sadly, it is Rowan whose tenure of the job has made it seem so.
His term of office has been in many ways disastrous, and it is important to consider why that should be so. In different ways both he and his predecessor George Carey have destabilized rather than stimulated the Church of England. Carey’s poorly conceived and insensitive managerial reform of the central church institutions added to the bureaucratic governance and undermined the existing representative structures, while Williams’s search for a new control mechanism to over-ride the existing auto-cephalous provincial authority would have created more problems than it solved. Neither archbishop seemed to possess a well-grounded vision of where the established Church of England was or should be going. But Carey and Williams were outsiders with little or no experience as diocesan bishops in the CofE or of the political aspects of “establishment”.