The archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans, is to retire three years ahead of the usual retirement age for the post.

Archbishop George Carey, who made the widely-expected announcement Tuesday, will leave office in October, when he will be 67, after having helped Queen Elizabeth II mark the 50th anniversary of her reign. It is understood that the Queen asked him to stay on for her golden jubilee this year.

Carey has been archbishop of Canterbury since 1991.

"I shall have served eleven-and-a-half years in a demanding yet wonderfully absorbing and rewarding post," he said. "I feel certain this will be the right and proper time to stand down. I look forward to exciting opportunities and challenges in the coming months, and then to fresh ones in the years that follow."

A senior church official at a press briefing today denied that Carey was retiring early, pointing out that bishops could retire from age 65. "Dr Carey wants to hand on the baton to his successor while he is still full of energy, vitality and commitment and I can assure you that he is," the official said.

Carey's three immediate predecessors—Robert Runcie, Donald Coggan, and Michael Ramsey—all served until around the age of 70, but the pressures of the post have been increasing while the see of Canterbury has developed as the de facto presidency of the world-wide Anglican Communion.

Last year, the head of a team inquiring into the future of the Canterbury see, Lord Hurd of Westwell, suggested that the archbishop's job was becoming unmanageable.

"Lambeth [the archbishop's administrative office in London] has grown organically. We are trying to make the whole manageable," Hurd said.

Among the proposals in the team's report are the appointment ...

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