The Church Time reports on a study which shows that the three most recent Archbishops of Canterbury have been “consistently controversial political figures.”
Turbulent Priests? The Archbishop of Canterbury in contemporary English politics, by Daniel Gover, a researcher at Theos, was released the same day as Dr Williams’s leader appeared in the New Statesman (News, 10 June).
The report examines the archiepiscopal interventions of Robert Runcie (1980-91), George Carey (1991-2002), and Rowan Williams (2002-present). It looks at policy areas including urban poverty, asylum and immigration, criminal justice, and armed conflict.
The report says: “The Archbishop’s political role encompasses both participation in political debate and giving meaning to the more ‘sacred’ moments of national life, such as mourning and death.”
In the area of urban poverty, the report Faith in the City, published in December 1985, was “particularly significant . . . because the commission that authored it was established by and acted in the name of” the then Archbishop, later Lord Runcie.
“It was interpreted by some — not entirely without justification — as having been a direct attack on [Margaret] Thatcher’s economic policies.” The report’s “strong support for Government intervention put it at odds with the economic liberalism that underpinned many of Thatcher’s reforms.”
An analysis of the British Social Attitudes Survey at the time suggests that “the Archbishop was broadly in line with the popular mood,” Mr Gover suggests. It also suggests that “the case for Dr Runcie’s moral approach to urban poverty being outdated appears weak. . . It is reasonable to judge that the Archbishop succeeded, in this area of debate, in sounding a moral voice in support of the common good.”
The main areas studied were poverty and social policy, war and peace, and criminal justice.