St Paul's cathedral official quits over London protests

27th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

A top official at St Paul's Cathedral resigned on Thursday, saying he feared the church's stance against anti-capitalist protesters camped outside the London landmark could lead to violence.

Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser, 47, said he could "imagine Jesus being born in the camp", which is inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States and the Indignants protesters in Spain.

Fraser had allowed the activists to camp in the churchyard in the heart of London's financial district after a protest on October 15, but he then clashed with church authorities who want the demonstrators to move on.

St Paul's closed last week for the first time since World War II on the grounds that the camp posed a health risk, but officials announced shortly after Fraser's resignation that it would reopen for prayers on Friday.

"The church cannot answer peaceful protest with violence," Fraser, the third most senior official at the church, told the Guardian newspaper.

"St Paul was a tent maker. If you tried to recreate where Jesus would have been born, for me I could imagine Jesus being born in the camp."

Fraser insisted that his disagreements with his colleagues were not acrimonious, adding: "Nobody was a villain in this, it has been a matter of conscience for everyone."

The dean of St Paul's, Graeme Knowles, said he was "very sorry" about the resignation of Fraser.

"We are obviously disappointed that he is not able to continue his work with chapter during these challenging days," Knowles said.

Knowles made the decision to close down St Paul's on Friday -- the first time it had shut its doors since the Blitz in 1940 when its iconic dome served as a symbol of defiance to Londoners.

And the row has raised intriguing questions about the role of the Church of England in an increasingly secular Britain, especially amid the wave of anti-capitalist protests in countries around the world in recent months.

The "Occupy London Stock Exchange" protest movement said it was "deeply moved" to hear that Fraser had resigned, adding that the thoughts of its members were with him.

"He ensured that St Paul's could be a sanctuary for us and that no violence could take place against peaceful protesters with a legitimate cause," it said in a statement on its website.

Fraser is a former philosophy lecturer at Britain's prestigious Oxford University, who regularly appears on BBC radio talking about social and religious issues.

Cathedral and London authorities -- who own some of the land where the camp is located -- say they are still considering legal action against the estimated 200 "Occupy London Stock Exchange" protesters there.

St Paul's will now reopen on Friday in time for the prayers at 1130 GMT, a cathedral spokeswoman said, in a service which will be a "simple celebration of the reopening of the cathedral".

The protesters camped outside will be among those prayed for, the spokeswoman said. The famed dome and galleries of the cathedral will however remain closed "for the time being".

The City of London Corporation, the local authority for the Square Mile financial district, is to seek legal advice on Friday about whether to launch court action to evict the protesters.

The resignation of the St Paul's churchman comes two days after clashes between US police and demonstrators in Oakland, California, left an Iraq war veteran critically injured.

Officers fired tear gas and bean bags to disperse the anti-Wall Street demonstrators.

© 2011 AFP

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