Britain announced on Tuesday that Rowan Williams, a Welsh churchman outspokenly in favor of gay clergy and women priests and opposed to Western militarism, would be the new spiritual leader of the world's 70-million Anglicans.
Williams, 52, will become the 104th archbishop of Canterbury in October, succeeding George Carey, 67, who is retiring after 11 years in the post. He is the first Anglican leader from outside England since the church broke away from Rome in the 16th century.
Armed with a formidable intellect, Williams is the author of 14 books, including two of poetry, and he speaks seven languages, including Welsh. Despite his sometimes provocative opinions, within the church he is thought of as a unifying and inspirational presence because of his mild, scholarly manner, his willingness to listen to opponents and his acceptance of the notion that radical change takes time.
The head of the Episcopal Church in the United States, presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, praised Williams in a statement Tuesday for his ability to "relate classical Christian tradition to the needs and struggles of our world."
A self-described youthful "peacenik" who was once arrested for reading psalms on the runway of a U.S. air base in Britain, the bearded cleric has more recently castigated the United States for withdrawing from environmental treaties, criticized the bombing of Afghanistan as "morally tainted" and said that any invasion of Iraq would be "immoral and illegal."
Earlier this year, he signed an open letter to the British government denouncing any military strike on Iraq, arguing that "eradicating the dangers posed by malevolent dictators and terrorists can only be achieved by tackling the root causes of the disputes."
Asked at a news conference Tuesday about his habit of speaking out on political issues, he said, "Any Christian, pastor or priest, is going to ask awkward questions in certain circumstances." In the specific instance of Iraq, he said he would support military action only if it were first approved by the United Nations.
He also reiterated his overriding concern for children and fears of their exploitation by rampant consumerism. In his upcoming book, Lost Icons, he attacks what he calls the corruption and premature sexualization of children and singles out the Disney Corp. as one of the worst offenders.
"What can we say about a marketing culture that so openly feeds and colludes with obsession," he writes. "The Disney empire has developed this to an unprecedented degree of professionalism."
At the same time, he finds lessons in popular culture, professing that one of his clerical heroes is Father Ted, the central figure in a British television series about a bumbling Irish priest. He has also cited The Simpsons as "one of the most subtle pieces of propaganda around in the cause of sense, humility and virtue."
He is reported to be interested in severing the links between the state and church in Britain, where vicars must swear allegiance to the crown. His appointment Tuesday had to be agreed to by Queen Elizabeth and the prime minister, Tony Blair, who were choosing from two names forwarded by a 13-member Crown Appointments Commission.
He also supports a move already under way to end the ban on church weddings for divorced people, a prohibition that has stood in the way of Prince Charles marrying Camilla Parker Bowles.
Born June 14, 1950, in Swansea to a Welsh-speaking family, Williams was lecturer in divinity at Cambridge University from 1980 to 1986, and professor of divinity at Oxford University from 1986 to 1992.
He was elected bishop of Monmouth in 1991, and in 1999 was elected archbishop of Wales, the senior clergyman in the Church in Wales, the Anglican church in the principality.
He married Jane Paul in 1981. They have a daughter, Rhiannon, 14, and a son, Pip, 6.
_ Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.