York & North Yorkshire

John Habgood, former Archbishop of York, dies aged 91

John Habgood and Robert Runcie Image copyright PA
Image caption John Habgood (right) with the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie, at Lambeth Palace

Former Archbishop of York John Habgood - a scientist and philosopher regarded as the most outspoken clergyman of his time - has died aged 91.

The current archbishop, John Sentamu, described him as a "towering presence".

Lord Habgood was appointed to the Church of England's second highest post in 1983 and held the role for 12 years.

However, Margaret Thatcher regarded him as too "wet" for her tastes and did not recommend him for the highest office of Archbishop of Canterbury.

Lord Habgood's liberal credentials became clear after he was made Archbishop of York.

He backed moves to allow the remarriage of divorced people in church and to permit the relicensing of remarried priests who had been divorced.

He also favoured the ordination of women and supported the idea that a guaranteed number of General Synod places should be reserved for black members.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Dr John Habgood was married with four children

In the House of Lords he voted against the controversial Clause 28 banning local authorities from "promoting homosexuality".

However, he and Mrs Thatcher did have something in common - they shared a scientific background. She graduated from Oxford with a chemistry degree - he got a double first in natural sciences at Cambridge.

Lord Hailsham, the Conservative politician and Lord Chancellor at the time, regarded Habgood as "the only bishop with an intellectual background of the highest class".

Paying tribute to Lord Habgood, Dr John Sentamu said: "His towering presence, physical, intellectual, and spiritual, was a gift to all who knew him.

"As a hugely distinguished scientist, theologian and philosopher, Archbishop Habgood's faith in Christ gave him a particular perspective and a persuasive witness both to church and nation for his time.

"His many books simplified big and complex questions, revealing an incredibly perceptive intellect."

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Queen inside York Minster with the Dean of York (left) and Lord Habgood (right) in 1988

The Rev Canon Dr James Walters, director of the London School of Economics Faith Centre, tweeted: "Rest in peace John Habgood, former Archbishop of York, a model of intelligent, pastoral Anglicanism.

"Margaret Thatcher once accused him, 'You should be providing moral certainty!'. 'But have you thought', he politely inquired, 'that moral certainty might be a sin?'."

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On one occasion a disgruntled traditionalist, Dr Gareth Bennett, wrote an anonymous article in Crockford's Clerical Directory, attacking the Church's liberal establishment.

Dr Habgood publicly attacked this article as "scurrilous", "sour" and "vindictive". Dr Bennett then took his own life and Habgood's detractors accused him of having gone too far.

He took his seat in the House of Lords on being appointed Bishop of Durham in 1973. He was elevated to the peerage as Lord Habgood of Calverton after his retirement as Archbishop of York in 1995.

He was a regular contributor to debates in the House of Lords. His speech on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in 1989 was so memorable that it continued to be quoted years after it was delivered.

His principal recreation was painting, both in watercolours and oils.

Lord Habgood was married with four children. His wife Rosalie died in March 2016.

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