Chartres favourite to lead Church

The race to be Archbishop: Contest heats up as the Bishop of London says he backs the ordination of women
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The Independent Online

Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, significantly improved his chances in the race to succeed Dr George Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury when he let it be known that he no longer opposes the ordination of women.

Chartres, now widely considered the favourite, signalled through friends that he would be "happy" to accept them as bishops if he was offered the archbishopric.

News of his apparent shift signalled the start in earnest of the race to succeed Carey, as leading bishops begin jockeying for position, albeit in a manner becoming their station.

With congregations across Britain celebrating the most important weekend in the Christian calendar, the commission of 13 senior Anglicans who will chose Carey's successor will be closely scrutinising the sermons and Easter messages of up to a dozen clerics linked to the post.

Five bishops have now emerged as leading contenders, according to Anglican commentators: the Archbishop of Wales, and the bishops of London, Rochester, Liverpool and St Albans.

The major candidates have all published Easter messages or prepared sermons for today which will be scrutinised for their theological and political standpoints as the Church wrestles with the ordination of gays, women bishops and its continuing links with the state.

William Hill, the only major bookmaker to open betting on the succession, claims the race is very close indeed. The Archbishop of Wales, Rowan Williams, and the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, are tied as joint favourites at 9/4 and are regarded respectively as liberal and conservative.

But they are very closely followed by Richard Chartres and the evangelical Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, jointly on 11/4. The Bishop of St Albans, Christopher Herbert, is in fifth place at 13/2. Chartres, regarded by many Anglicans as the leading conservative candidate, has had the largest single wager: £200 placed by a punter in York.

The commission will soon begin considering candidates after Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, Britain's most senior woman judge, was named its chairwoman last week. Two names could be presented to Tony Blair as early as this summer, although most expect an announcement in the autumn.

Herbert will be the most prominent contender today after being selected to deliver the BBC1 Easter sermon from St Albans cathedral. Regarded as a safe, reliable candidate, he highlighted his moderate evangelical credentials by affirming that the Resurrection literally happened. It was, said Paul Handley, editor of Church Times, a "competent" sermon.

Williams, the widely liked favourite among Church of England bishops and a supporter of gay and female ordination, will reinforce his liberal credentials by urging Christians to remember victims of the West's war in Afghanistan. "A living and honest church will be trying to prevent the world from forgetting inconvenient and embarrassing tragedies," he will say.

Chartres, his chief competitor, delivers the most impassioned sermon, condemning the violence in the Middle East, Afghanistan and that of 11 September. "We can at least identify with the crucified victim in a world like this," he will say at St Paul's.

Nazir-Ali, who opposes gay ordination and disestablishment, underlines his belief in modernising the church in an Easter message about urban and economic regeneration on the Thames.

The fifth leading candidate, the Bishop of Liverpool, will remain silent, however. Thought to be Tony Blair's preferred candidate, Jones is finishing a three-month sabbatical at Oxford studying Christianity and the environment, and is expected to unveil new theories about "green" Anglicanism in early May. This will open up yet another agenda for the commission to consider.