(Britain’s Queen Elizabeth speaks with Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury during a reception at the Houses of Parliament in London March 20, 2012. REUTERS/Toby Melville )

A Church of England panel meeting in secret to choose the next Archbishop of Canterbury has failed to reach agreement on who should be the new leader of the world’s 80 million Anglicans, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

After three days of talks behind closed doors in an undisclosed location, officials narrowed the field to three candidates, but will need to meet again to finish the job, the Sunday Times said, citing an unnamed senior cleric.

The choice of a replacement for Rowan Williams, who steps down in December, is critical for a church in danger of splitting over divisive issues such as gay marriage and senior women clergy, and facing a rising threat from secularism.

The Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), a church panel with 16 members whose chairman is appointed by the prime minister, had been expected to pick a preferred candidate and a second choice on Friday, a church source said last week.