With Rowan Williams set to step down as Archbishop of Canterbury after ten years in the job, attention is already turning to who might replace him as head of the 77 million-strong Anglican Communion – with Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York the early favourite.
The appointment of a successor to Rowan Williams will throw into sharp focus the continuing row in the Anglican church over the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage.
Williams’s announcement also comes just as the church is set to make a decision on the divisive issue of women priests.
Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, is favourite to replace Williams. Dubbed by some the 'cleric of the people' he recently attracted controversy – and abuse – when he spoke out against gay marriage.
Sentamu opposes gay marriage but supports civil partnerships – praising them as having addressed injustices faced by same-sex couples. Speaking earlier this month he said,
"There's a difference - and people don't these days want to talk about difference...that difference doesn't mean one is better than another, but they're different."
Dr Sentamu is widely viewed as the front runner in the race to succeed Williams and was made the bookies’ favourite today after William Hill placed odds of 6/4 on him taking over the role.
Sentamu, the sixth of 13 brothers and sisters, is a former barrister and judge and fled Uganda in 1974 because of his criticism of the dictator Idi Amin.
Known for taking a strong stance on sometimes controversial subjects, in 2007 Sentamu cut up his dog collar in protest against Robert Mugabe's rule.
He also once pitched a tent and camped in York Minster for a week foregoing food in sympathy with those suffering in middle east conflict.
If chosen, Sentamu’s views on gay marriage seem likely to escalate the increasingly bitter row within the church over the issue – and continue the battle, fought by the liberal intellectual Williams, between traditionalists and modernisers.
Other contenders for the role include Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, who is known for his environmental campaigning.
A close friend of Prince Charles he would widely be regarded as the establishment choice. He is, however, against the ordination of women bishops – which could prove problematic in the short-term.
The Rt Rev Tim Stevens, the Bishop of Leicester, who recently clashed with the government over the benefits cap could also be a possible contender.
The Bishop of Bradford, Nick Baines, 54, is also in the running.
A prolific tweeter and a regular on the Radio 2 'Pause For Thought' – Baines is considered inclusive and is well-liked by the liberal wing of the church.
David Cameron today paid tribute to the outgoing Archbishop, Rowan Williams, speaking of his 'dedicated service' and saying,
"As a man of great learning and humility, he has guided the church through times of challenge and change," the Prime Minister said.
"He has sought to unite different communities and offer a profoundly humane sense of moral leadership that was respected by people of all faiths and none."