(Britain's Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, sits near the high altar during the ninth Inauguration of the General Synod at Westminster Abbey, in central London November 23, 2010. REUTERS/Dan Kitwood)

Already split over women bishops and gay rights, the Church of England has stumbled into a damaging race row over who to choose as spiritual leader of the 80-million strong Anglican Communion.

Since Rowan Williams announced in March that he was to step down as Archbishop of Canterbury, the bookies’ favourite has been John Sentamu, the charismatic Archbishop of York – the only black bishop in the mother church of the Anglican Communion.

But race has reared its head, embroiling the Church in a row that some insiders say shows the insular snobbery and racism that has been accepted quietly for centuries.

Abhorrence aside, claims of racism are potentially explosive because African churches make-up an increasingly large chunk of the world’s Anglicans. More than half are from Africa. Sentamu, 62, grew up in Uganda under dictator Idi Amin.