LONDON — Leaders of the Church of England today rejected a proposal to stop publishing an anonymous church commentary despite the suicide of a theologian who lambasted their spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, in it.
The latest commentary, a preface to Crockford's Clerical Directory, sharply criticized Runcie and accused him of being too liberal and indecisive.
The 66-year-old Runcie, leader of 70 million Anglicans worldwide, including 3 million U.S. Episcopalians, was accused in the commentary of weak and ineffectual leadership, of being overly influenced by liberal pressure groups and of surrounding himself with bishops of like-minded liberal persuasion.
The preface is traditionally anonymous, but suspicion about who wrote it quickly fell on Canon Gareth Bennett, 58, an Oxford University theologian, because of his association with the church's conservative wing, influential position and academic distinction.
Bennett repeatedly denied to colleagues and reporters that he authored the preface, but he apparently found the constant questioning and newspaper headlines too much.
He was found dead Dec. 7 in a car in the garage of his home in an Oxford suburb. Police Chief Inspector Laurie Fray said Bennett apparently asphyxiated himself with a hose leading from the exhaust. No suicide note was found.
Within 24 hours of his death, Bennett was identified as the preface's author by Derek Pattinson, the synod's secretary general, and James Shelley, secretary of the Church Commissioners.
Amid the controversy after the suicide, the policy-making General Synod of bishops, clergy and laity today voted 250-200 against a motion to halt publication of the preface in the directory, a list of Anglican clergy published by the church every two years.
Some critics saw the attack as the opening shot over the succession to Runcie, who has been under incessant criticism from supporters of conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It is thought that Runcie will retire well before his 70th birthday, the customary age for bishops to step down.