He told BBC Radio 4 that he never ordained men who were openly involved in gay relationships, but simply ran a policy of "don't ask, don't tell."
"I have not knowingly ordained anyone who told me they were a practising homosexual and were living in partnership with somebody as if it were a marriage ... in fact I have halted an ordination when I discovered that. On the other hand, I never liked the prospect of enquiring into what happened in a man's bedroom unless he is prepared to tell me."
The Rev Richard Kirker, the deacon who runs the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, and whose own ordination to the priesthood was halted by Lord Runcie 20 years ago when he came out, said yesterday: "We have said for years that the present policy is unworkable. It is good that he has said so too."
Lambeth Palace would not comment on the former Archbishop's remarks, except to suggest that they formed part of a debate which the church is meant to be encouraging.
But the General Synod press office issued an immediate denunciation of Lord Runcie's remarks: "The House of Bishops has made it quite clear that the church cannot regard homosexual practices as on a par with heterosexual relationships within marriage."
Later in the interview, to be broadcast at 8pm tonight, Lord Runcie said the root of the Church of England's present problems with sexual morality go back to the Lambeth Conference of 1930, when the Anglican Communion decided that contraception within marriage was acceptable. "Once the Church signalled ... that sexual activity was for human delight and a blessing even if was divorced from any idea of procreation [but] once you've said that sexual activity is ... pleasing to God in itself, then what about people who are engaged in same sex expression and who are incapable of heterosexual expression?"
This argument too was attacked by the Synod's press office, which said: "To accept the case for artificial contraception within marriage does not imply that it is right to engage in sex outside marriage."Reuse content