Dr George Carey also recalled the Dunblane tragedy in which 16 infants and one teacher were killed and other crimes against children and adults in his remarks made five minutes after midnight, and shown on BBC1 at 1am.
Dr Carey anticipated the general election and reflected on the kind of society that we have become - and the kind we wish to be - as the end of the century approaches. He said: "In looking back, there will be many who will be deeply thankful that 1996 has ended.
"For those of us who love children, 1996 will forever speak of Dunblane and some of the other terrible crimes committed against young children and adults alike. It is a reminder that at the very heart of a decent society there must be an uncompromising commitment to protecting the weak and vulnerable.
"None of us knows what 1997 will bring. Nationally, we shall be facing a general election. Individually, all kinds of challenges lie ahead, and many uncertainties.
"As we look to the millennium, many of us are asking questions about the kind of people and the kind of society we want to be. It is a good time to search our souls."
Dr Carey said he remembered the 1,400th anniversary of Augustine - the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 597 - as he looked at the paintings in the chapel at Lambeth Palace, but he also drew attention to the modern pictures "to remind us that the Church today is for all people of every race and continent".
The images show outstretched hands praying and the Archbishop said: "Hands lifted in prayer must result in hands reaching out to all people with the love of God."
Dr Carey ended with a prayer for the New Year: "Eternal God, I place myself into your hands this coming year. May we walk together, hand in hand, and in my actions may your will be done. Amen."Reuse content