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Occupy London Claims Another Church Victim as Knowles Resigns, St. Paul’s in Turmoil

Posted on the 01 November 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
Occupy London claims another church victim as Knowles resigns, St. Paul’s in turmoil

At OLSX, St. Paul's. Photo credit: Duncan C.,

Occupy London Stock Exchange

The Dean of St. Paul’s, the Rt. Rev. Graeme Knowles, announced his resignation on Monday, explaining in a statement that appeared on the church’s website, “It has become increasingly clear to me that, as criticism of the cathedral has mounted in the press, media and in public opinion, my position as Dean of St Paul’s was becoming untenable.” Knowles’s departure follows the resignations last week of Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Giles Fraser and part-time chaplain Fraser Dyer; Knowles advocated taking legal action to evict the protesters, while Fraser and Dyer harboured deep concerns that eviction could result in violence. Fraser resigned after asking the police, not the protesters, to move from the steps of the church.

The church has been the subject of serious criticism for its response to the protesters, who have been living in some 200 tents around the churchyard since October 15. While some at the top are clearly sympathetic to the Occupy London cause, others are worried about the protest’s impact on the church’s finances – tourists aren’t as likely to visit the landmark church when it’s surrounded by legions of protesters dressed as zombified bankers.

Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his first official comment on the situation, responded to Knowles’s resignation in a statement released on his website on Monday: “The events of the last couple of weeks have shown very clearly how decisions made in good faith by good people under unusual pressure can have utterly unforeseen and unwelcome consequences, and the clergy of St Paul’s deserve our understanding in these circumstances.” He added, “The urgent larger issues raised by the protesters at St Paul’s remain very much on the table and we need – as a Church and as society as a whole – to work to make sure that they are properly addressed.”

So, the church finds itself embroiled in a crisis of faith, while the occupation on its doorstep wants to bring the focus back to why they’re really there – and whose fault is this whole mess?

Protesters never wanted Church “scalps” – but do want St. Paul’s on their side. Occupy London responded to Knowles’s resignation on its site by reiterating that the protests are about “social justice, real democracy and challenging the unsustainable financial system that punishes the many and privileges the few”, not about challenging St. Paul’s authority. “The management of St Paul’s Cathedral is obviously deeply divided over the position they have taken in response to our cause – but our cause has never been directed at the staff of the Cathedral,” the statement continued – before asking that the St. Paul’s Institute “publish its report into renumeration [sic] in the financial sector”, a survey of 500 City workers’ salary and bonuses that was due out last week, and “call on those of all faiths and none to be part of a call for change”.

St. Paul’s a “national joke”? Mark Field, Tory MP for Cities of London and Westminster, told The Telegraph, a Conservative paper with a deep affection for the City, that the protests had turned St. Paul’s into a “national joke”. Field said, “The whole thing is farcical. You couldn’t make it up. It’s gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. This tented community has been there for two weeks and has hardly brought the foundations of capitalism to its knees… Ironically, the only capitalist organisation that has lost out is St Paul’s. I suspect that these resignations will only ensure that these protesters become more entrenched.”

“The whole thing is farcical,” says MP Field.

The church is the real victim here. The Times (£), in a leading editorial, claimed that there are many groups you could blame for the Occupy London encampment: “Hippies, bankers, students, money men, corporate greed, fatuous fashionable left-wing doctrine, fatuous fashionable right-wing doctrine, David Cameron, Gordon Brown the manufacturers of cheap tents, allowing protesters too many human rights or too few.” But you can’t blame the Church of England. Intoned The Times, “It is admirable that the leaders of St Paul’s take their teachings so seriously that the question of how to police a small demonstration causes a crisis of conscience.” Perhaps the protesters should examine theirs.

Blame the clergy’s “bizarre and indecisive handling”. Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent for The Guardian, claimed that the St. Paul’s clergy have only themselves to blame for this “unprecedented” crisis – and for the costly legal battle that will likely ensue as attempts to evict the protesters move forward. Butt spoke with church commentator Paul Handley, editor of Church Times, who agreed, “They were hugely mistaken in closing the cathedral and backing the injunction. They have started on a path they have no control over and the threat of force undermines any efforts to be friendly.”

And what about the Corporation of the City of London? The somewhat silent partner in this whole fiasco has been the Corporation of the City of London, the authority responsible for the Square Mile, London’s financial heart and, as George Monbiot claimed in a piece for The Guardian, “the place where democracy goes to die”. Protesters want the Corporation to be subject to greater national control and oversight; Monbiot, railing against the “medieval” rules of the Corporation that put a significant amount of power into the hands of the businesses that reside there, agrees.

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