February 15th, 2008

Archbishop Runcie

What with all the fuss the other day about the Archbishop of Canterbury, I found myself thinking about my own archbishop- Robert Runcie- who filled the post from 1980-91-  and how I was sort of fond of him.

And yesterday- on Ashes to Ashes- they were playing short clips of the TV coverage of the Royal Wedding in '81 and there was this extraordinary affected, posh voice, speaking in an accent that's now extinct- and I though to myself "Who the hell is that?"  And then they showed us the head the voice belonged to- and it was Runcie- wittering on about fairy tale weddings.

He knew Charles and Di weren't suited. He was her confessor and heard all sorts of things. But there he was- nonetheless- all decked out in his glitter and his fish-head hat- doing it to them.

Not his finest hour.

Actually he had lots of those. 

He dealt with the issue of women priests by evasion.  It was famously said of him that  he "pinned his colours to the fence".

He overstretched himself by sending a peace envoy hither and yon (as if he were a head of state) and then looked like a fool- and a callous one at that- when the envoy was kidnapped and there was nothing he could  do to free him.

But the job of an Archbishop of Canterbury is impossible. He has to be three distinct things.

1. God's top man in England.
2. Chaplain in chief to the English establishment
3. CEO of the world-wide Anglican communion.

So, he has three constituencies: the god-fearing, the toffs and the funny foreign people. Their interests are not compatible. Anything he does to please one group is liable to offend the other two. And unlike the Pope he doesn't have super powers. It's part of his job to put his foot in it (which is why I'm not calling for Rowan Williams to resign).

And sometimes Runcie put his foot in it bravely

As when he prayed for the Argentine dead at Mrs T's Falklands War victory bash. She was furious.

But then he was a holder of the military cross and knew about war. He'd been a tank commander in WWII and was the only Archbishop of Canterbury in living memory to have  killed people.

He was elitist, self-aware, funny. 

I stumbled across his grave the other day; on the north side of St. Albans cathedral-  in the shade. 

Domini est terra.