Battle for soul of Anglican Church

The head of the Australian Anglican Church, Peter Carnley, effectively steps down this week, triggering a succession race that will pit moderates against conservative evangelicals in a battle for the soul of the church.

The Archbishop of Brisbane, Dr Phillip Aspinall, and Sydney's conservative archbishop, Dr Peter Jensen, have emerged as frontrunners, along with the Sri Lankan-born Bishop of Newcastle, Roger Herft, who is to follow Dr Carnley as the Archbishop of Perth and has long supported an equal role for women in the church.

But church watchers warn there is no candidate in a strong leadership position capable of unifying the deeply divided Australian communion. Candidates may even need to be recruited for the first time from among bishops of Australia's smaller dioceses.

The jockeying begins as the leaders of the 77-million-strong Anglican Church meet next week in Northern Ireland in an attempt to patch up differences over the issue of gay bishops that threatens to split the church.