The news from and about the Occupy London protests at St. Paul’s Cathedral keep coming. Today, a question about where the Archbishop of Canterbury is in all this, a satiric rendition of what went on behind the scenes, and more comment about how St. Paul’s (and along with them, the Church of England) have made their response a public relations disaster. And there may be more resignations.
Jerome Taylor at the Independent talks about the silence of the ABC:
So far the Archbishop of Canterbury has kept his head far below the ramparts, choosing not to utter a single word on a deepening public relations disaster for the Established Church.
For the past three days, Rowan Williams has been physically distant from the furore engulfing his Church. He is in Italy, at the invitation of the Pope, for an interfaith love-in in the town of Assisi. Pulling out and returning to Britain would have been a diplomatic faux pas at a time when relations between the Catholic Church and Canterbury remain strained over Rome’s ongoing attempts to woo disaffected Anglicans. But the Archbishop could have easily released a statement through his staff at Lambeth Palace had he wanted to or felt it necessary.
The camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral has been a public relations disaster for the Church of England. When the tents were moved to the purlieus of the Cathedral, the more enlightened Canons, most notably Dr Giles Fraser, saw this as an opportunity to preach the Gospel. Today he tells The Guardian: “I could imagine Jesus being born in the camp.”
After all, day after day, inside the Cathedral – the Dean and Chapter and the congregation of Japanese tourists – gather in the name of one who despised the notion of worldly wealth. The Church of England has been having some stupendously ridiculous quarrels with itself lately.
Jesus, as it happens, never expressed a view about gays, nor about female bishops – two of the C of E’s favourite topics. But he did preach tirelessly about the everlasting feud between God and Mammon. There could surely be no doubt where the Church would stand, when it came to a quarrel between the greedy fat cats of the City and the well-meaning protesters in the tents.
Well, amazingly, the Church of England, as represented by the Dean of St Paul’s with the enthusiastic support of the Bishop of London, chose to close the Cathedral on the grounds that the campers represented an insurance hazard. What did he fear? Rats in the sleeping bags? Since the Cathedral is to be reopened today, Friday, it is obvious that there were NO dangers and he was simply mishandling the situation. There is now talk of the Cathedral suing the campers for loss of tourist revenue. Dr Fraser has resigned. And the Bishop and the Dean, very late in the day, have said they will talk to the campers on Sunday morning, asking them to move on.
Neither the Bishop nor the Dean can see how this looks. The fat cats of the City, deep in filthy lucre, finance the City churches and St Paul’s.
No doubt this is done with good intentions but it looks like a sordid attempt to paper over the chasm between the usury of the City and the insistent demands of the Gospel – not to lay up treasure upon earth, and to look to the poor for wisdom.
Tim Walker at the Telegraph says there may be more staff resignations over the Chapter’s decisions.
The Rev Dr Giles Fraser’s resignation as Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s over the cathedral’s muddled response to the demonstrators on its doorstep looks unlikely to be the last.
Mandrake is reliably informed that another senior figure in the hierarchy of St Paul’s, Canon Mark Oakley, its affable Canon Treasurer as well as a well-known author and broadcaster, is this weekend wrestling with his conscience.
“I voted the same way as Giles at Chapter as I couldn’t vote for any course of action that might lead at some point to violent behaviour,” Oakley, 43, tells me.
“I believe that the Church’s lifeblood is its vocation to be a peace-broker and negotiator for the common good and a just society. I would like to stay at the cathedral to play my part in ensuring there is a peaceful resolution, hoping that, while the form of the protest changes, the substance of it can be developed here as well as challenging and helping to inform everything we do.”
When I inquired if Oakley would resign if the anti-capitalist demonstrators were to be forcibly removed, with the cathedral’s support, he declined to comment.
Nick Curtis writing for the Evening Standard imagines the internal debate at the Cathedral:
The Chapter House. The Dean is seated at the table. Clerk of The Works Martin Fletcher is standing, looking shaky. Enter the Canon from outside.
Canon: Some of the police started getting a bit biblical out there so I had to step in. Preached a sermon on the steps. Did the whole “Let he who is without sin …” bit. They’re actually a terribly nice bunch and seemed very interested in my views on gay marriage and liberalising the church. I’ve told them it’s fine to stay for a bit.
Dean:: I’m closing the cathedral.
Canon:: What? But the last time we did that the church was being firebombed by the entire Luftwaffe. Not being given a group hug by a bunch of vegetarian graphic designers having an urban camping experience.
Dean:: I know, but Martin here has seen a report from an independent health and safety officer who says a primus stove, a chemical toilet and a mung bean stew could trigger a chain reaction that would wipe out our 200 staff, 100 volunteers, and hordes of worshippers. Not to mention tourists, who, I may remind you, pay £14.50 each to gawp at our dome and spend a further £53 a head on postcards, finger sandwiches and handcarved marble Isle of Lewis ecclesiastical chess sets.
Canon:: So you’re closing, even though that will lose us … let me see … around £16,000 a day. And ruin our standing as a sanctuary open to all.
Dean:: Erm, yes.