Christianity

Occupy London - Archbishop of Canterbury finally speaks - and backs protesters

Occupy London - Archbishop of Canterbury finally speaks - and backs protesters

October 30, 2011
The Daily Mail

The Archbishop of Canterbury last night broke his silence on the protesters camped outside St Paul's Cathedral, saying he sympathised with the 'urgent larger issues' they raised.

In a sign of the panic within the Church of England high command since the arrival of the activists, Dr Rowan Williams intervened yesterday after the dean of the cathedral became the third member of staff to resign.

Indicating his support for the anti-capitalists' aims, the Archbishop said: 'The urgent larger issues raised by the protesters at St Paul's remain very much on the table.

'We need - as a Church and as society as a whole - to work to make sure that they are properly addressed.'

The Archbishop's intervention was sparked by the resignation yesterday of the Dean of St Paul's, the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles.

The dean caused controversy when he closed the historic building's doors last month for the first time since the Second World War, citing 'health and safety concerns' over the tents.

The cathedral reopened last week but the dean said yesterday his position had become 'untenable' amid the ongoing row.

The Archbishop's endorsement of the right of the protesters to campaign showed just how confused the Church of England remains in its response to the encampment on its doorstep.

His remarks came as the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, confirmed yesterday that legal efforts to persuade the activists to leave have begun.

The bishop stressed that cathedral officials did not want a violent eviction.

The dean's departure followed Canon Chancellor of St Paul's, Giles Fraser - who had told police to leave the activists alone after their arrival on October 15 - and part-time chaplain Fraser Dyer.

The Occupy London protesters were showing no signs of leaving despite the cathedral's requests.

They were understood to have been served official notice from the City of London Corporation yesterday afternoon, giving them 48 hours to remove their tents and equipment before they face eviction.

Dr Williams said the dean's departure was 'very sad news'.

He added: '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. Graeme Knowles will be much missed.'

Yesterday a significant protester splinter group refused even to support the cathedral's requests for drink, drugs and loud music to be banned from the protest camp.

They appeared largely bemused by the resignation of the dean - which he had to yesterday submit to the Queen, since his job is a crown appointment.

Their reluctance to leave was indicated by placards saying 'Hell no we won't go' and 'Jesus did not quit - he drove the money lenders from the temple'.

In a statement Mr Knowles, the dean for four years, said: 'Since the arrival of the protesters' camp outside the cathedral, we have all been put under a great deal of strain and have faced what would appear to be some insurmountable issues.

'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.

'In order to give the opportunity for a fresh approach to the complex and vital questions facing St Paul's, I have thought it best to stand down as dean, to allow new leadership to be exercised.'

St Paul's spokesman the Right Reverend Michael Colclough said: 'We are committed to doing all we can to find a way ahead that ensures the main message of the protest is not only heard but properly attended to, and in such a way that people in the local community, as well as our own team, can do their work peacefully for the good of everyone.'

The Bishop of London explained that due to the 'great mystery' of the Church of England's organisation, the cathedral made its own decisions without control from him. But he said St Paul's officials had asked him to help out in the protesters' row.

He went on: 'There are many diverse voices in the camp outside St Paul's, but among them, serious issues are being articulated which the cathedral has always sought to address.'

The bishop stressed that all in the church wanted a peaceful resolution, but added said that any responsible organisation had to investigate its legal powers.

Outside, the camp still numbers about 200 tents - but barely 50 protesters attended a meeting yesterday afternoon to decide tactics.

About a quarter of those present indicated that they were reluctant to accept basic requests from the cathedral for drink and drugs to be barred from the site and the camp to be kept tidy.

In a statement, the group, whose official name is Occupy London Stock Exchange, said: '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 real issue was 'challenging the unsustainable financial system that punishes the many and privileges the few', it added.

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