Blair leads tributes to retiring Archbishop

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Tributes have been paid to the Archbishop of Canterbury as he prepares to leave office after a decade as head of the Church of England and spiritual leader of the 77m-strong Anglican Communion.

Dr Rowan Williams, 62, will step down at the end of this month as 104th Archbishop of Canterbury to take up the posts of Master of Magdalene College Cambridge and chairman of the board of trustees of Christian Aid, the international development agency.

His departure comes after a turbulent 10 years in office in which Dr Williams has fought to maintain unity within the Anglican Communion amid rows over Church teaching on gay relationships.

He leaves the Church of England battling to resolve long-running negotiations over the introduction of women bishops – after legislation to introduce the first female bishops was defeated last month at the General Synod.

The Archbishop’s decade in office has also featured high profile interventions on controversial issues such as the invasion of Iraq, sharia law and government economic policy. He has been willing to take part in public debates with leading atheists and critics of the Church such as Richard Dawkins and author Philip Pullman.

Dr Williams will be be replaced by 56-year-old former oil executive the Rt Rev Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, who will be consecrated in March.

Church of England bishops and former prime minister Tony Blair paid tribute to Dr Williams, describing him as someone who had given “unwavering” service to the Church of England and the wider nation.

Mr Blair said: “He brought to the role an intellectual integrity, a deep spirituality and sheer openness to all, both in times of harmony and in times of challenge.”

Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev Steven Croft, said Dr Williams was “loved and deeply respected” across the Anglican Communion.