The outgoing leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans suggested a form of job share after admitting that he had failed to do enough to prevent a split over homosexuality.
Dr Williams said a new role should be created to oversee the day to day running of the global Anglican communion, leaving future Archbishops of Canterbury free to focus on spiritual leadership and leading the Church of England.
In his last major interview before he steps down later his year, he acknowledged that he had struggled to balance the growing demands of the job at home and abroad and admitted he had “disappointed” both liberals and conservatives.
He also said that the Church had been “wrong” in its treatment of homosexuals in the past but reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Daily Telegraph, Dr Williams also acknowledged that his handling of the controversy over the role of Islamic sharia law in Britain had caused “confusion” but said he stood by his central views.
He also voiced concern that politicians with little or no connection to religion were coming under the influence of secular campaigners and called for more Christians to go into politics.
And he hinted at a possible change in relationship between the monarch and the established Church when the Prince of Wales becomes king, remarking that he was “more quizzical” than his mother about the Church of England.
But he also voiced optimism about the state of the Church and said that despite a fall in attendances at services, “popular spirituality” is alive and well.
Dr Williams was speaking as Faith in the Public Square, a collection of his lectures dealing with subjects as diverse as human rights, secularism and multiculturalism, is published.
Looking back over his time at Lambeth Palace, which has seen a string of controversies over issues such as the ordination of homosexuals and the question of women bishops, Dr Williams acknowledged that there had been “mistakes”.
“I know that I’ve, at various points, disappointed both Conservatives and Liberals,” he said.
“Most of them are quite willing to say so, quite loudly.
“That’s just been a background to almost everything, a pretty steady ‘mood music’.”
Arguably the biggest crisis he has faced has been the split between traditionalist provinces, including the rapidly growing African churches, and liberals following the ordination of the first openly homosexual Anglican bishop, Gene Robinson in the US.
He acknowledged that he had failed to do enough to stop the split developing but said that was proof that the role of leading the Anglican Communion and the Church of England had become too much for one person.
“Thinking back over things I don’t think I’ve got right over the last 10 years, I think it might have helped a lot if I’d gone sooner to the United States when things began to get difficult about the ordination of gay bishops, and engaged more directly with the American House of Bishops,” he said.
He went on: “I think the problem though, is that the demands of the communion, the administrative demands of the communion have grown, and are growing.
“I suspect it will be necessary, in the next 10 to 15 years, to think about how that load is spread; to think whether in addition to the Archbishop of Canterbury there needs to be some more presidential figure who can travel more readily.”
He insisted that future Archbishops should still retain a “primacy of honour” and remain as “head” of the Anglican Communion but said there should be “less a sense that the Archbishop is expected to sort everything”.
He also disclosed that discussions were under way about overhauling the way the Anglican Church is organised around the world, adding “watch this space”.
Last night Bishop Mouneer Anis, the leader of Anglicans in the Middle East and North Africa – who is chairman of the Church’s leaders in the so-called “Global South” welcomed the suggestion.
But he added: “Speaking personally, I think having a presidential figure will not solve divisions unless the presidential figure has the support of the primates of the Anglican Communion.
“So [it has to be] someone who is elected, who sits and talks with the primates and would have an executive role to implement what they decide.”
And he said it was news to him that the discussions were taking place.
Closer to home, the Archbishop also reaffirmed the Church’s opposition to same sex marriage and warned it would lead to a legal “tangle”.
But he added that the Church had been “wrong” in the past in its approach to homosexuality…
The CofE has been ‘wrong’ about far more than ‘homosexuality’ in the past. Listening to Archbishop Rowan Williams, it reads more like 20-20 hindsight on display… And history will not look on him kindly.