A Ugandan-born cleric who opposes gay priests in the Anglican church as well as the U.S.-led war in Iraq will become the first black archbishop in the nearly 500-year history of the Church of England.

On Friday, the Right Rev. John Sentamu, 56, now bishop of Birmingham, was appointed by the British government as archbishop of York, the church's second-highest position after Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who leads the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Sentamu, a former judge, has made clear that he supports the Lambeth Resolution of 1998, which rejects homosexual practice as "incompatible with Scripture" and rules out gay marriage in the church.

But the cleric was recently appointed by Williams to a committee to try to mend a rift in the church caused by the New Hampshire diocese's decision to appoint an openly homosexual bishop, V. Gene Robinson.

An activist against racism and gun crime, Sentamu has led demonstrations against the Iraq war and campaigned for more help for workers from the collapsed carmaker MG Rover. He is known as a visionary and able teacher.

Diocesan bishops within the Church of England are appointed by the British monarch on the advice of the prime minister.

Sentamu said he was excited about his new role.

"It is imperative that the church regains her vision and confidence in mission, developing ways that will enable the Church of England to reconnect imaginatively with England," he said in a statement.

"It is important that the Church of England's voice is heard locally, nationally and internationally, standing up for justice, bringing good news to the poor, healing to the brokenhearted, setting at liberty those who are oppressed, and proclaiming the death of Christ and his Resurrection."

Sentamu, who grew up near the Ugandan capital, Kampala, was an outspoken critic of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin's, which landed him in jail. In 1974, he spent several months under house arrest before leaving Uganda for Britain. He was ordained as a priest five years later and became bishop of Birmingham in 2002.

Sentamu is the first black cleric to hold such a senior position in the history of the Church of England since its founder, King Henry VIII, broke with the Vatican nearly 500 years ago over his desire to divorce his first wife, Katherine of Aragon.

Sentamu succeeds the Rev. David Hope, who resigned in 2004 to spend his last years before retirement working as a parish priest.

In a statement, Williams said that Sentamu "is someone who has always combined a passion for sharing the Gospel with a keen sense of the problems and challenges of our society, particularly where racism is concerned."

Sentamu studied law at Uganda's Makerere University and was later appointed a judge in Uganda's High Court. He has a doctorate in theology from Cambridge University.

In 1997, he became an adviser to an inquiry into the bungled police investigation of the 1993 killing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence. The inquiry concluded that London police were institutionally racist.

The Rev. John Sentamu was recently appointed to serve on a panel created to mend a rift in the church over the appointment of a gay bishop.