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LONDON (Reuters) - The spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, will resign his position next year almost a decade before he is due to retire in order to return to academic life, a newspaper reported on Sunday.
Williams, 61, who has worked hard to prevent the worldwide Anglican community from splitting over the ordination of women and gay bishops, may take up a senior post at Cambridge University, the Sunday Telegraph said.
Williams, who conducted the marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in London in April, taught theology at Cambridge and Oxford universities ahead of a church career that saw him succeed George Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002.
His spokeswoman declined to comment on the report, which was sourced to friends of the archbishop, saying his resignation date was a private matter.
The normal retirement age for Church of England bishops is 70, the spokeswoman confirmed.
The paper said Williams would stay on until after celebrations for Queen Elizabeth's diamond jubilee and seeing the church passing legislation to allow women to become bishops.
His imminent departure would prompt intense behind-the-scenes wrangling within the church, with the Ugandan-born Archbishop of York John Sentamu possibly succeeding him in a caretaker role, the paper added.
Williams' tenure has come during some of the church's most turbulent times, with its worldwide federation of 38 churches threatening to tear itself apart in doctrinal disputes over homosexuality and the role of women.
He has sought to hold the Anglican community together by urging them to adopt an agreement, or covenant, aimed at ending their disputes, but has faced opposition from African church leaders.
It would require member churches to undertake not to act in a way likely to upset fellow Anglicans in other countries.
The covenant was first proposed in 2004 after tension rose over the consecration of an openly gay bishop at the Episcopal Church, the official U.S. member church in the Communion.
Williams has regularly come under fire for his outspoken comments, most recently making headlines in June with an attack on the British government's deficit-cutting austerity programme.
"With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted," wrote Williams, prompting Prime Minister David Cameron to say the cleric was free to speak out but that he profoundly disagreed with his comments.
Reporting by Tim Castle