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Anglican official: Front-runner for top church job victim of 'naked racism'

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Archbishop of York John Sentamu stands next to Britain's Queen Elizabeth II as she leaves the Royal Maundy Service at York Minster in York, northern England, on April 5. During the Royal Maundy Service the queen distributed the Maundy money to 86 women and 86 men -- one for each of the queen's 86 years.

The church of England's only black bishop, tipped to become the new leader of the 80-million strong worldwide Anglican Communion, is the victim of blatant racism, a former aide told a British newspaper.

"At its best, the besmirching of (Archbishop of York) John Sentamu has revealed that strand of snobbery which views outsiders as lacking class, diplomacy or civility — in other words 'not one of us,'" Rev Arun Arora told The Sunday Telegraph newspaper.  "At worst, it has elicited the naked racism which still bubbles under the surface in our society, and which is exposed when a black man is in line to break the chains of history."

Outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who has agonized about schisms in the Anglican Communion, a federation of 38 national and regional churches, is over women and gay bishops and same-sex unions, announced unexpectedly last month that he would step down at the end of the year.

He presided over a church split between progressives ready to allow women bishops and bless same-sex unions, and conservatives opposed to such modern reforms.

Rowan Williams quits: could Anglican church have its first black spiritual leader?

The resignation of Willliams, a white-bearded and bushy-browed theologian, appeared to spell the end for his faltering project to forge more unity in the federation.

Arora's charges of an "anonymous whispering" campaign against Uganda-born Archbishop of York John Sentamu came as an anonymous bishop compared Sentamu's temperament to that of an "African chief," according to the Telegraph. 

Sentamu was born in Uganda and  fled to Britain in 1974 to escape from dictator Idi Amin. 

A second unnamed bishop told the newspaper:

"I think Sentamu is clearly going to be a very strong front-runner, although I think there are also the people who are not quite sure that he is suitable in terms of the way he behaves, because he is quite tribal and the African chief thing comes through ... There is something in Sentamu which retains his African views and approach, which can be at one time an asset and another time can be a problem."

When he announced his decision to step down, Williams said it was time to move on after a decade as archbishop and a his new post as master of Magdelene College at Cambridge University would give him the time "which I have longed for" to think and write about the Church.

"I would hope that my successor has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros," he said at the time.

Sentamu has praised Williams as "God's apostle for our time," a courageous and holy man who had been "much maligned by people who should have known better." 

Elizabeth Hunter, director of the London-based religious think tank Theos, described Sentamu as more conservative than Williams. But she did not see him making a sharp break in the Church or the Communion. 

"Anyone who gets this post will not take a radical diversion from the path that Archbishop Rowan has been treading simply because there really isn't any other choice," she told Reuters.  

Other possible contenders to replace Williams reportedly include: Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London who gave the address at the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton last year; Bishop of Bradford Nick Baines, known as the ''blogging'' bishop, in recognition of his enthusiasm for new media; and Tim Stevens, the Bishop of Leicester.

Msnbc.com and Reuters contributed to this report.

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