UPDATED 10/20/11: see below
This morning The Anglican Communion Office noted the welcome that protestors have received by St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and the Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser, but now word has come that St. Paul’s is asking the protestors to leave the cathedral grounds. The cost in lack of visitors and disruption seems to be taking its toll.
From Anglican Communion News Service:
Scores of anti-corporate demonstrators invaded London’s historic St. Paul’s Cathedral on 16 October, but police who tried to stop them were told to leave by church officials, Religion News Service reports.
The protesters — who were targeting the global financial system as part of worldwide demonstrations against corporate greed – were welcomed into the 17th-century cathedral, and Sunday services went on uninterrupted. The protesters were allowed to continue their presence into 17 October, provided they did not interfere with tourists.
The Rev. Giles Fraser, the cathedral’s canon chancellor who took steps to ease tensions, told reporters that “I am very much in favor of people’s rights to protest peacefully,” and said he asked the police to leave the building “because I didn’t feel it needed that sort of protection.”
The demonstrators, some wearing masks and others waving banners, camped out in tents around St. Paul’s and preached their defiance of bankers and financial institutions from the cathedral’s steps.
One of the protesters, a former City of London financial analyst who asked not to be identified, said he thought Fraser’s actions helped keep things peaceful. “His quick thinking stopped police violence,” the protester told ENInews.
On Saturday, several hundred protesters occupied the steps and pitched tents outside the church as the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations spread via social media to London and worldwide. Almost swept from the area by police that night and the following morning, they were spared when cathedral authorities told officers to back off and allowed the protest to stay.
A church warden told the protesters the Corporation of London – the local government body that represents London’s financial district – was putting the greatest pressure on police to end the occupation.
Late on Monday, a Corporation spokesman denied that was the case and said there were no plans to clear the demonstration “today or tomorrow”. But he said the protesters were wrong to try to scapegoat the City of London.
“The banking sector is a major driver of growth and tax revenue in the UK and elsewhere,” he said. “The City has been a centre for trade, banking and now financial services for 2000 years and it is important it stays that way.”
Reverend Rob Marshall, spokesman for St Paul’s, said the church had a long tradition of engaging with both the City of London’s businesses and its people and that while it welcomed peaceful protest it also needed to guarantee that worshippers and tourists could continue to visit.
From the Cathedral today A Statement from the Dean and Chapter:
St Paul’s Cathedral stated on Monday that it was still trying to provide worship and welcome to all in spite of the presence of the protest camp in the churchyard. St Paul’s asked everyone to respect this need and to acknowledge the risk to the life of the cathedral posed by the current situation.”
“The cathedral has managed so far to remain open on a reduced basis. The increased scale and nature of the protest camp is such that to act safely and responsibly the cathedral must now review the extent to which it can remain open for the many thousands coming this week as worshippers, visitors and in school parties. Is it now time for the protest camp to leave? The consequences of a decision to close St Paul’s cannot be taken lightly’.
UPDATE: The cathedral denies asking protesters to leave according to The Guardian today.
St Paul’s Cathedral has denied asking the protesters camped out on its piazza as part of the Occupy London Stock Exchange demonstration to leave.
But the dean and chapter, the governing body of the cathedral, said that growing number of protesters were causing a disruption and concerns about health and safety.
The cathedral has had to close the restaurant and the gift shop and visitor numbers have fallen significantly since the camp was set up on Saturday, after the protesters tried and failed to occupy Paternoster Square, home of the London Stock Exchange.
St Paul’s added that there were concerns that if the camp got any bigger it could become unsightly and block access for visitors. It said takings were down but denied reports they had fallen by 70%.