Let’s not imagine that a married clergy is a solution

Let’s not imagine that a married clergy is a solution

Robert Runcie, who died in 2000, was a well-liked Archbishop of Canterbury who had warm ecumenical links with the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Basil Hume. He participated in a joint service at Canterbury – on the spot where St Thomas More was murdered – with Pope John Paul II in 1982.

Dr Runcie’s wife, Rosalind, was quite a character. Attractive, lively, ‘feisty’ was a word often used, she was a talented classical pianist who was once photographed draped rather seductively atop a grand piano. She was the opposite of the vicar’s wife strait-laced stereotype. She once said “too much religion makes me go ‘pop’!”

And now it has emerged that Lindy, as she was called, had a very special relationship with another man of the cloth, the Dean of Canterbury, Victor de Waal.

Now 91, Dr de Waal has publicly admitted that he had an ‘inappropriate’ relationship with Lindy Runcie, and indeed resigned because of it.


It is unclear how close this ‘inappropriate’  friendship was, but it seems as though the dean felt it was becoming too dangerously close. He too was married, and the father of four.

Who’s judging? No decent Christian would: everyone is made of flesh and blood and can be tempted into relationships that aren’t quite in the line of virtue.

Yet it’s also a kind of illustration that a married clergy is not necessarily the easy solution to a shortage of priests. Most Catholics in Ireland are in favour of married priests, and of ordaining married men – a practice already carried out in other parts of the globe. But marriage can bring extra complications and problems as much as it can be a support. As we know, marriage can also be subject to breakdown and divorce.


More wives of Anglican clergy are now coming forward claiming  domestic abuse and marital infidelity, according to an investigation by The Daily Telegraph.

The Rev. Margaret Wilkinson heads up a Church of England organisation ‘Broken Rites’ which deals with divorce and marital breakdown among the clergy, as well as domestic abuse.

In so many cases, she says, there is a real lack of support for the spouses and children when clerical marriages fracture.

The Runcies’ marriage survived and the ‘inappropriate relationship’ seems to have been more of a renunciation of temptation than an indulgence. The only evident fallout was that the Dean of Canterbury lost his job. But don’t let’s imagine that a married clergy is an answer to all prayer.


Painful but a return to origin

Pope Francis finds it “painful” that the famous Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is to revert to being a mosque, and the Greek Orthodox hierarchy is even more distressed. Turkey’s strongman ruler Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered that this beautiful basilica change status from museum to mosque.

Hagia Sophia (or ‘St Sophia’ as it’s called in Fr Prout’s charming poem ‘The Bells of Shandon’) has been, over its long history, both Christian and Islamic. It was constructed under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the 6th Century and turned into a mosque in 1453. In 1934, it was secularised by Ataturk, and made a museum.


I visited this exquisite ediface – one of the UNESCO’s world heritage sites – in 2014, and to be honest, I found the ‘museum’ atmosphere rather deadening. Tourists traipsed around the interior perfectly respectfully (the Turkish authorities insisted on modest dress), but it struck me as just another tourist target to ‘do’. They examined the holy artefacts just as people look at dinosaur bones in natural history museums.

I’m sure we share Pope Francis’ pain (and the Greek Orthodox, who have been virtually extinguished from their historic roots in Turkey, have real cause for complaint), but is it better that Hagia Sophia should be a holy, and living, place of prayer rather than a building ordered by secular values to something past and gone? Discuss.


I was due to speak at the Percy French Festival in Roscommon on July 22 and was much looking forward to participating in this engaging festival – interesting talk, lovely music – but quarantine regulations have prevented me travelling. The good news is that Declan Ganley will take my place and will speak on the theme of ‘Is there a future for the western world?’

There is a great line-up, including Kevin Myers, Maria Steen, Profs Patricia Casey, Gerard Casey and Ray Kinsella, and Kevin Finnerty at Castlecoote has carefully organised events within health and safety regulations.

The Percy French is one of the few summer schools to stay operational this summer and bravo them. For bookings see info@percyfrench.ie