Robert Runcie was Archbishop of Canterbury
at a time of difficulty and division for the Church of England.
Issues like the ordination of women, homosexuality among priests and changes to the
Prayer Book caused differences within the Church.
But his criticism of government policies on unemployment and inner cities incurred the wrath of
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who accused him of failing to provide moral leadership.
Robert Runcie was born in Liverpool in 1921. He once
described his father, a Presbyterian, as a racing man who was suspicious of policemen and parsons.
He won the Military Cross during the Second World
As a child, he went to a Methodist Sunday school but became an Anglican proper after confirmation at the age of 14.
He and his family
suffered their first major trauma when his father went blind and had to give up work.
During the Second World War he served in a tank battalion of
the Scots Guards and won the Military Cross for pulling a soldier out of a burning tank under fire.
With the war over, he completed a First Class
degree at Oxford in classics, philosophy and ancient history before training for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1950.
He called for Christian
harmony at his enthronement
Dr Runcie was an outstanding preacher: an intellectual with the gift of putting theological concepts into language
understood by ordinary people.
As Bishop of St. Albans he kept pigs, and not entirely as a hobby. Apparently they made a profit.
enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1980. In his sermon he offered to build a warm, mutual understanding between Christians and non-Christians,
churchgoers and non-churchgoers.
In May 1982 he welcomed Pope John Paul II to Canterbury, the first visit by a Bishop of Rome, and they held a joint
service which stressed Christian unity. He returned the visit seven years later and worshipped with the Pope in St. Gregory's Church in Rome.
1982 Dr Runcie's courage under fire was once again required when he asked the congregation to pray also for the relatives of Argentine soldiers killed in
the Falklands War.
He was accused of being unpatriotic and incurred the wrath of Mrs Thatcher.
Dr Runcie's support for mining communities
during the 1984 strike was to further change the notion of the Church of England as the Tory Party at prayer.
He championed the inner city poor
The deepening divisions between rich and poor that marked the Thatcherite 80s worried him, and he felt it was the Church's job to stand up for those
less well off.
He once said one did not have to look as far as Ethiopia to find disease, death and disaster: they were on our doorstep in Britain's
In 1985 his commission on urban poverty issued a report entitled "Faith in the City", which was condemned as Marxist by government
Dr Runcie paved the way for the ordination of women
A few years later he launched the Church of England's Urban Fund which has
done much to relieve pockets of deprivation in the inner cities.
On the divisive issue of women priests, Dr Runcie did much to steer the Anglican
Church towards accepting them, although he had initially worried about the effect it would have on relations with Catholics. He eventually decided that it
was a development whose time had come.
He was, however, against the ordination of actively homosexual clergymen, but he tried to encourage
understanding of gay relationships.
The Church of England under Dr Runcie faced repeated attacks from within over his alleged lack of moral and
spiritual leadership. Some bishops openly expressed their doubts about taking the Bible too literally, while others felt they needed more certainty from the
The Archbishop welcomes back his special envoy, Terry Waite
The discontent reached a climax when the anonymous preface of the
influential Crockford's Directory accused him of failing to give the Church a decisive lead, of "nailing his colours to the fence".
controversy erupted, the author was named as Gary Bennett, a friend of Dr. Runcie's who then committed suicide.
There was more anguish for Dr Runcie
when his special envoy Terry Waite, who, while on a mission to Lebanon to negotiate the release of hostages, was himself kidnapped. It was not until almost
five years later that he was finally released.
He regarded the Prince and Princess of Wales as incompatible
Dr Runcie became a life peer in
1990 and retired the following year. The publication of a biography in 1996 brought more controversy. He said that he had always believed that the marriage
of the Prince and Princess of Wales, whose wedding oaths he had administered, was doomed to failure.
He said the couple were incompatible and that
the Prince did not take the Church of England seriously.
Famously self-deprecating, Robert Runcie once accepted that he had a crippling capacity to
see both sides of every question. But he believed this was less damaging than single-minded conviction.