ENGLAND: St. Paul’s Cathedral calls off legal action against protestors

Bishop says doors are 'most emphatically open' to engage issues

By ENS staff
Posted Nov 1, 2011

[Episcopal News Service] The chapter (governing body) at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London has unanimously agreed to suspend legal action to remove some 200 anti-capitalist protestors who’ve been camped outside since Oct. 16.

The decision comes one day after Cathedral dean Graeme Knowles resigned due to mounting criticism about the way the cathedral had responded to the protestors.

Diocese of London Bishop Richard Chartres, who has stepped in to offer leadership at the cathedral following Knowles’ resignation, said that “alarm bells are ringing all over the world. St. Paul’s has now heard that call. Today’s decision means that the doors are most emphatically open to engage with matters concerning not only those encamped around the cathedral but millions of others in this country and around the globe.”

The City of London Corp., the city’s governing body which owns the land surrounding the cathedral precincts, said later on Nov. 1 that it too had suspended legal action against the protestors but that it would revisit the situation on Nov. 2. Earlier reports had indicated that the City of London Corp. was set to serve an eviction notice calling on the protestors to leave voluntarily within 48 hours. The cathedral chapter said in its release that it “recognizes the corporation’s right to take such action on corporation land.”

Stuart Fraser, City of London Corp. policy chairman, said: “The church has changed its standpoint and announced it is suspending legal action on its land. Given that change, we’ve pressed the ‘pause’ button overnight on legal action … in order to support the cathedral as an important national institution and give time for reflection.”

Meanwhile, Chartres has invited investment banker Ken Costa to spearhead an initiative “reconnecting the financial with the ethical,” according to a cathedral press release. Costa is chairman of Alpha International, a program that presents basic principles of the Christian faith to new Christians, and a warden at Holy Trinity Brompton in London.

“I am delighted that Ken Costa has agreed to spearhead this new initiative which has the opportunity to make a profound difference,” said Chartres in the release.

Costa will be supported by several city, church and public figures, including the Rev. Giles Fraser, who on Oct. 27 resigned from his position as cathedral canon chancellor because he did not want to be associated with the decision to take legal action to remove the protestors.

Fraser, although no longer a member of the cathedral chapter, “will help ensure that the diverse voices of the protest are involved in this,” the release said.

Cathedral canon pastor Michael Colclough is quoted in the release saying the past two weeks have been “an enormously difficult time for the cathedral but the chapter is unanimous in its desire to engage constructively with the protest and the serious issues that have been raised, without the threat of legal action hanging over us. Legal concerns have been at the forefront in recent weeks but now is the time for the moral, the spiritual and the theological to come to the fore.”

The London protest, calling itself the Occupy London Stock Exchange, is part of a worldwide demonstration of anger against economic injustice and greed. The campaign originated in New York, where Trinity Wall Street posted a statement on its website Oct. 5 inviting Occupy Wall Street protestors to use the congregation’s facilities and staff for rest, revitalization and pastoral care. On Oct. 20, Trinity hosted a meeting of interfaith leaders, including Episcopal Diocese of Long Island Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, discussing ways to support the movement.

The protests, begun in New York on Sept. 17 and inspired by the Arab Spring movement, have spread to more than 2,100 locations, including other major cities such as Chicago, Miami, Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Rome and Tokyo.