Who is Responsible for What?By Tom Aitken in London
St Paul’s Cathedral opened its doors twenty minutes after midday recently after closing them for a week because of a 99% protest on its steps.
At 12.30, there was a communion service. In his sermon Dean Knowles expressed satisfaction that worship could again take place in an unlocked cathedral.
Happy ending? Not altogether.
The previous morning, the Cathedral’s canon chancellor, Giles Fraser, had
resigned. Of all the events of a tumultuous week this was widely seen as the most significant.
‘Consultant’ on ethics
Canon Fraser was the cathedral’s resident consultant on contemporary ethics. He looked after its relations with the City of London as a financial centre.
An academic philosopher, he also has a profile as a journalist,contributing to The Church Times, The Socialist Worker, The Guardian and the Daily Mail.
He it was who went out from the Cathedral when the demonstrators arrived, welcoming them and expressing, in specifically Christian terms, sympathy with their anti-capitalist cause.
He later felt that, having made their point, the campaigners should leave
when the Cathedral asked them to. What forced his resignation was the
possibility that police, acting on behalf of the Cathedral, would use force
against the demonstrators.
Present but isolated
Canon Fraser, now serving out his notice, was present at the communion service after the reopening.
During the administration of communion, however, the other seven clerics present were all active, but Canon Fraser sat throughout, isolated and
His choice, someone else’s, accidental..?
But, as the clergy processed out of the sanctuary, one of the congregation, an American woman demonstrator proudly displaying her identity as an ‘Original Wall Street Invader,’ rose to give the Canon a big hug. He looked very pleased.
A question, often asked but never satisfactorily answered during this
dramatic day, was ’What had changed between closure and reopening,
sufficient to remove the various dangers that had ‘forced closure?’
Cathedral staff had a standard answer. A few tents had been dismantled. Some others had been moved. The camp kitchen had been shifted.
‘Bizarre’ reasons for alleged peril
These changes were barely visible. Some reasons given by the fire service
for the peril posed by the camp were bizarre.
1) Worshippers fleeing from fire might trip over tents’ guy ropes.
As you may imagine it is not easy to erect tents using guy ropes on a
solidly paved area. Most tents are on a circular tubular base, with interior
2) Rats and mice might infest the site.
I have spent about three hours there during three visits, one at night. I
saw no rodents.
Once again, ‘Elf ’n safety’ as it is unaffectionately known, was ludicrously
exaggerating peripheral risks.
force the cathedral to close in order to demonise the demonstrators.
The City of London certainly wants them out. Its functions are to govern and police the ‘Square Mile’ and promote ‘The City’ as the world leader in
international finance and business services.
One method they have embraced enthusiastically is promoting the idea that the demonstrators are part-timers, since some tents are empty after
The demonstrators, however, claim that what they promote is a permanent demonstration, not a permanent corps of demonstrators.
Some of them have jobs to go to, some have families to care for.
If a banker goes home at night, is he a part-time banker?
Two days after the reopening, Dean Knowles and Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, are meeting the protesters, following criticism from clergy. They may invite them to conduct a debate in the Cathedral, then leave.
Some people wonder why they have heard nothing from the Archbishop of
Canterbury, Rowan Williams. He, it happens, is abroad, doing his job as head of the Anglican Church throughout the world, no sinecure during his nine years in office.
Good work he has done, particularly in Zimbabwe, has been sabotaged by
events at St Paul’s, and he is said to be privately despairing that its
administration has appeared to support the City of London by closing the cathedral.
Nevertheless, he does not wish to comment on the words and actions of Bishop Chartres and Dean Knowles, lest this should ‘undermine’ them.
Is this a clue to what he would say if he did speak out?
There is also the question of professional etiquette. Chartres is on the
spot, monitoring events. Williams is elsewhere, doing his own job.
William’s predecessor in office, George Carey, has felt less inhibited. He
writes in the Daily Telegraph, that Canon Fraser’s resignation is ‘a sad
day,’ the reputation of Christianity is being damaged by the episode, and the possibility of fruitful and peaceful protests has been brought into
‘The Blitz only closed St Paul’s for four days — the last week has been a debacle,’ he says.
Carey reminds us that that in the past the churchyard of St Paul¹s has been a venue for fierily political public sermons. And this is not first time
that St Paul’s has weighed in on the wrong side: in 1526 a Bishop of London publicly burned copies of Tyndale’s [English] New Testament at St Paul’s Cross.
Carey also criticises the protestors, I think mistakenly: ‘The demonstrators managed to put St Paul’s out of business for a week’ and are ‘prepared to
continue their demonstration at the expense of Christian worship.’
It remains to be seen whether the City and the Cathedral will obtain the
injunctions they seek.
Meanwhile, a few words from an unlikely semi-supporter, Martin Vander Weyer, who writes the Any Other Business page in The Spectator:
The demonstrators, he says, have made their point, ‘even if many of them don’t fully understand it the privations of the current stagflation fall
disproportionately on those who were at best only partial, passive
beneficiaries of the boom, including pensioners and the unskilled.’
(No prizes are offered, but I’d like to see suggested titles for the novel Anthony Trollope might write were he still with us.)