The Right Rev. Robert Runcie, a theological moderate and strong ecumenist who believes the Anglican Church must be more in touch with the modern world, was today appointed the next archbishop of Canterbury, the primate of all England and spiritual leader of 65 million Anglicans worldwide.
The 57-year-old bishop of St. Albans will succeed the present archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Donald Coggan, 69, who announced in June that he would retire at the end of the year "to make way for a younger man." Runcie will be formally installed next January.
Runcie was a schoolboy cricket captain, World War II tank commander decorated for bravery, Cambridge University theological don, rural vicar and urban bishop, and the Anglicans' leading authority on relations with the Orthodox Church. He is known as a witty debater, skilled diplomat and able administrator. He is most widely praised for energetic leadership and a "flair for communications."
Runcie said at a press conference today that he hoped he could help "shift the Anglican Church in the right direction" to make it seem more relevant to the people and problems of the 1980s and stop the church's steady decline in membership, attendance and influence.
"I think the church is looked to with not much expectation," he said, "because it seems to be wedded to outmoded intellectual ideas and rather dated social ways, and I am sure that breaking through that barrier is the major challenge."
"People feel frustrated about the Anglican Church," he said. "They don't know what its faith, decision-making processes, intentions or policies are. It should state its faith more strongly, simplify its decision-making processes and present clearer policies."
But he also described himself as "rather more of a conservative in church matters" than Archbishop Coggan. He favors allowing divorced people to remarry inside the church but "at the moment" opposes ordaining women as priests.
He does not believe "you can square abortion with Christian principles," but does not necessarily support legislation outlawing it. He refuses to take a position on the issue of homosexual priests until a church report on it is completed.
On marriage and divorce, Runcie said, "I recognize, teach and support that marriage is a lifelong relationship," but there should be forgiveness for those who divorce after their marriage has clearly died and later seek to remarry in the church. "I will push to have the church take a more charitable position on it," he said.
On women priests, he said he was against the ordination of women although he was about "evenly balanced on the principle" and recognizes that "some churces in the Anglican communion ordain women and some don't."
Late last year the Church of England's clergy blocked the ordination of women here after the bishops and laity had voted for it.
He said he would recognize the ministry of women priests in the autonomous Anglican churches of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong, "but I believe it is irregular."
Runcie said he hoped there would eventually be "complete unity between the Anglican and Catholic churches. The time is long past when Anglicans can approach their problems without reference to Catholics, Protestants, the Orthodox Church or even Islam."
On the problems facing Anglicans in Britain today, Runcie said the church "has an opportunity to meet people's longing for a bit more meaning in life and to meet the opportunity for reconciliation between groups at odds with each other -- management and the unions, for example, communities of mixed racial origin and in the conflict between those who demand law and order and those who have permissive attitudes."
Runcie is the first archbishop of Canterbury to be chosen by a new 16-person selection commission of leading clergy and lay people who widely canvassed the church before forwarding two names to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, indicating a preference for one of them. Thatcher than recommended the commission's choice to the queen, who made the formal appointment that was announced today.
Until now, the prime minister alone chose a candidate to recommend to the queen with as much or as little consultation with the church as the prime minister desired. In practice, four of the last five archbishops of Canterbury were previously archbishop of York.
Runcie was believed to have been chosen over the current archbishop of York, the Right Rev. Stuart Blanch, because Blanch was older at 61 and not that eager to leave York.
Runcie, the son of a Scottish electrical engineer who was a "lapsed Presbyterian," was raised in Liverpool and became an Anglican on his own as a teen-ager after attending confirmation classes with a friend at a local church. He was captain of his private school's cricket team and later a graduate of Oxford, which he attended on a scholarship.
He won the Military Cross during World War II as a lieutenant commanding three tanks for twice braving enemy fire on an open battlefield to rescue one of his men who was wounded and then knock out an enemy gun emplacement. After being ordained as a priest, he served as a chaplain and taught theology at Cambridge and served as a rural vicar before becoming bishop of St. Albans in 1970.
He raises rare Berkshire pedigree pigs as a hobby and avidly reads novels, favoring those by Iris Murdoch and P. G. Wodehouse.