LONDON (AP) _ The next archbishop of Canterbury could be a former Roman Catholic who converted to Anglicanism as a young man, the Church of England said Saturday.
A church spokeswoman said there was nothing unusual about the spiritual path of the Right Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, a city 25 miles east of London.
Pakistan-born Nazir-Ali is considered the favorite to replace Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who retires in October as spiritual leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans.
``It is wholly unremarkable that someone has started on their path as a Roman Catholic and later moved to the Anglican church,'' the spokeswoman said, on customary condition of anonymity.
``There are many people in the church who have moved from one to the other. It is just that the bishop happens to be a prominent member of the Anglican Church.''
According to the Times newspaper, Nazir-Ali was baptized an Anglican but became involved with the Roman Catholic church while attending Catholic school as a teen-ager. He re-entered the Anglican church at about 20, the newspaper said.
Nazir-Ali could not be reached immediately for comment Saturday.
The Times said some of Nazir-Ali's supporters believe rivals are mounting a ``whispering campaign'' against him. It said British newspapers recently were tipped off to claims about the bishop's past that turned out to be false.
Competition for the church's top job can be fierce, and the process of selecting a new archbishop slow and deliberate. The Crown Appointments Commission, a 16-member body of bishops and church officials, will decide on two names to recommend to Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose choice will be ratified by the queen.
The Right. Rev. Michael Scott-Joynt, the Bishop of Winchester, said Saturday he hoped the campaign would not be spoiled by dirty tricks.
``I hope there isn't any and if there is then we've got to be absolutely clear that that's the wrong way of going on, whether in this discussion or any other,'' he told the British Broadcasting Corp.