REPORTING FROM LONDON -- A senior clergyman resigned Monday over St. Paul Cathedral’s handling of anticapitalist protesters camped outside the church, the second cleric lost to an increasingly tense standoff involving God, mammon and their earthly representatives.
Graeme Knowles said his position as dean of the cathedral “was becoming untenable” in the face of mounting criticism of the way St. Paul’s has responded to the tent camp that has sprouted outside its imposing porticoed entrance near the banks of the Thames.
The protesters, organized by the London offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, have been on the spot for more than two weeks but now face eviction by the City of London, the historic downtown area that is home to Britain’s financial district. Officials with the City of London Corp., which owns some of the property, served the demonstrators with orders to leave within 48 hours, but Occupy London is likely to lodge a court appeal to stay.
The battle of wills has transfixed this country and put St. Paul’s in an awkward position. It was never the target of the protesters, but when their original plan to swarm the nearby London Stock Exchange was stymied by police Oct. 15, they pitched their tents outside the church instead. They’ve maintained a peaceful, orderly presence there since, complete with food service, latrines and even a tent reserved for silent meditation.
But church leaders have adopted an increasingly harder line against the camp, while hastening to add that they share many of the social concerns and critiques the protesters have raised.
Last week, Giles Fraser, a high-profile cleric who had welcomed the demonstrators, stepped down as canon chancellor because of his colleagues’ toughened stance and his fear that the tent camp might be evacuated by force.
In a statement announcing his resignation Monday, Knowles said the situation had put everyone at the cathedral “under a great deal of strain” and that St. Paul’s needed a new dean to deal with “what would appear to be some insurmountable issues.”
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Tents fill the space in front of St Paul's Cathedral in London on Monday. The cathedral's dean resigned over the church's handling of the anticapitalist Occupy London demonstration, which is camped outside the church. Credit: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images