Rowan Williams on St Paul's and the economy

Lambeth Palace has published the full text of an article written for the Financial Times by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

See Time for us to challenge the idols of high finance.

It’s sometimes been said in recent years that the Church of England is still used by British society as a sort of stage on which to conduct by proxy the arguments that society itself doesn’t know how to handle. It certainly helps to explain the obsessional interest in what the Church has to say about issues of sex and gender. It may help to explain just what has been going on around St Paul’s Cathedral in the last couple of weeks.

The protest at St Paul’s was seen by an unexpectedly large number of people as the expression of a widespread and deep exasperation with the financial establishment that shows no sign at all of diminishing. There is still a powerful sense around – fair or not – of a whole society paying for the errors and irresponsibility of bankers; of messages not getting through; of impatience with a return to ‘business as usual’ – represented by still soaring bonuses and little visible change in banking practices.

So it was not surprising that initial reactions to what was happening at St Paul’s and to the welcome offered by the Cathedral were quite sympathetic. Here were people – protesters and clergy too, it seemed – saying on our behalf that ‘something must be done’. A marker had been put down, though, comfortingly, not in a way that made any very specific demands.

The cataract of unintended consequences that followed has been dramatic. The Cathedral found itself trapped between what must have looked like equally unpleasant alternative courses of action. Two outstandingly gifted clergy have resigned. The Chapter has now decided against legal action. Everyone has been able to be wise after the event and to pour scorn on the Cathedral in particular and the Church of England in general for failing to know how to square the circle of public interest and public protest….


  • peterpi - Peter Gross says:

    “There is still a powerful sense around — fair or not — of a whole society paying for the errors and irresponsibility of bankers …” — ABC Rowan Williams

    “Fair or not”?!?!?
    I admit up front I don’t know what the British response to this crisis is, but here across the Pond, our government — under both Democratic Party and Republican Party leadership — has prevailed upon us taxpayers to cough up hundreds of billions (thousand millions) of dollars to offset the losses caused by the “errors and irresponsibility” of bankers and others, thus making those bankers and others financially whole, while people are losing their jobs, their homes, their businesses.
    In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the lesson the major banks and other lending institutions learned was “Make a spectularly big enough mess, and someone will clean it up and pay for it.” See also: Greece, default bailout.
    Your Grace, there’s no “or not” about it. Yes, there’s plenty of blame to go around. But bankers and other finance types played a major role. And I see little sign of repentance, of admittance of error, of correcting bad habits, from that sector for their mistakes. Just take the taxpayers’ money — and run.

  • Father David says:

    The authoritative and impressive intervention by the Bishop of London in the St. Paul’s debacle clearly shews that he is by far the best cleric to take over when Rowan goes off to be Master of Trinity College, Cambridge next year. Although, having said that, the Archbishop of York does have some camping experience when he set up his tent inside the Minster in 2006 as a public witness to encourage peace in the Middle East.

  • Richard Ashby says:

    peterpi, I am sure you are not the only one to have picked up this temporising by the ABC. I would have thought that here was the perfect opportunity to be quite firm and straightforward about what he really feels has gone wrong. But to hedge his bets ‘fair or not’ echoes the whinging of the bankers who were saying a year ago that they had done enough pennance and why couldn’t the just get on with their job (of making themselves lots of money and sod the rest of us) And he has again compromised his own authority, as if he is still not sure and is still wrining his hands.

  • Doxy says:

    “And he has again compromised his own authority, as if he is still not sure and is still wrining his hands.”

    I am amazed at the idea that the ABC has any authority left to compromise….

  • Erika Baker says:

    “Fair or not” also accepts that it’s more complicated than to blame “the bankers”. Not all of them are immoral, Governments and company managements are just as implicated, as are we when we take out loans we know we can’t afford, buy products from companies that don’t trade ethically etc.

    There’s a huge fault in the financial system itself that rewards actions that are ultimately detrimental to the economy as a whole.

    Occupy is a focal point, a symptom of what’s gone wrong. The anti-capitalist certainties of many occupiers themselves are quite shallow, though, and they don’t do the complex problems we’re facing any justice. To that extent, the criticism of Occupy is legitimate.

    The answers will be as complicated and multi-faceted as the problems are, and they will have to be found by a complex alliance of people from all walks of society, industry, commerce and finance.
    Simplistic “it’s all their fault’s” won’t help.

  • MarkBrunson says:

    While I agree with Erika that it is a fault that is shared equally – and without getting into the predatory stance of American financiers which in fact *does* make them the chief “bad guys” – I would still maintain that, in international terms, the finance industry is a symptom of an economic illness, and, though it is vital to treat the underlying disorder, triage demands allaying the symptom, first. It’s like reducing a fever before surgery, or being over a cold before receiving a flu shot.

    As long as financiers allow people the chance to purchase beyond their ability, they will do so, borrowing against a future which is economically supported by . . . borrowing against an uncertain future. As long as there is this ability to borrow, prices will stay up, because people will borrow to pay it, and the basic instinct of greed drives the ambition of large corporate players. Add to that the dependence of entire nations on financiers, and you get a legislative ethos which protects the corporate interest at the expense of the individuals that make up the state, which becomes untenable as fewer and fewer have enough to keep the economy going because of massive debt which cannot be escaped.

  • Rosemary Hannah says:

    I think he means: ‘the bankers were not alone in pursuing a society based on greed and on survival of the fittest, and theirs was not the only group which believed that monetary gain was the chief end of life, and the environment could be plundered at will and would always recover. Others bear blame, and most of us allowed ourselves to be complicit. They are to blame, but it is not they alone who made the mess.’ If he does not mean this, I do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *