Friday, 21 October 2011

St Paul's Cathedral and the protestors

Updated again Friday evening

Ed Thornton reports in the Church Times this morning: Crisis brings crowd to steps of St Paul’s
Update There has been a major update of this story, now headlined Protest means we must shut, says Dean of St Paul’s.

THE Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral appealed this week for cathedral life to “be allowed to operate as normally as possible”, after hundreds of activists, protesting against corporate greed and eco­nomic inequality, set up camp in St Paul’s Churchyard…

The Church Times also has editorial comment on the subject: Leader: Cold comfort for protesters.

The statements by the Dean and Chapter can be found here, and earlier here.

Friday afternoon update

Two further statements from the Dean of St Paul’s:

Statement from the Dean of St Paul’s (21 October)

Update Video of this statement here.

…Last night, I met with members of the Chapter to discuss some of these key issues. As the week has gone on, and in a statement we issued earlier this week, we intimated how difficult the situation was becoming.

As a result of that meeting, and reports received today from our independent Health, Safety and Fire officers, I have written an open letter to the protestors this afternoon advising them that we have no lawful alternative but to close St Paul’s Cathedral until further notice. I have here copies of the letter clearly outlining the reasons we have had to take this dramatic course of action which I will ask my colleagues to distribute.

The Health, Safety and Fire officers have pointed out that access to and from the Cathedral is seriously limited. With so many stoves and fires and lots of different types of fuel around, there is a clear fire hazard. Then there is the public health aspect which speaks for itself. The dangers relate not just to Cathedral staff and visitors but are a potential hazard to those encamped themselves.

The decision to close St Paul’s Cathedral is unprecedented in modern times and I have asked the Registrar to implement emergency procedures whereby the building remains closed but fit for purpose until such a time that we can open safely. Our 200 staff and 100 volunteers are also being informed of this decision this afternoon.
I want to say two simple things at this point.

1)We have done this with a very heavy heart, but it is simply not possible to fulfil our day to day obligations to worshippers, visitors and pilgrims in current circumstances.

2)That all of the Chapter are at one on this and recognise the complexities of the issues facing us at this time…

Open Letter from the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral

…With a heavy heart I have to tell you that St Paul’s Cathedral has to be closed today until further notice, because of the legal requirements placed upon us by fire, health and safety issues. I know you will appreciate that in taking on the burden of responsibility for the care and well being of people entering our building, we must also be able to ensure everyone’s safety and, according to those who are expert in this regard, we cannot do so at the moment. I wanted to inform you of this necessary decision before I announced it to the Press.

I am therefore appealing to you directly to recognise that a great deal had been achieved by your presence here outside St Paul’s but that, in order that we might re-open the Cathedral as speedily as possible, we ask you to withdraw peacefully. We are concerned about public safety in terms of evacuation and fire hazards and the consequent knock-on effects which this has with regards to visitors…

Guardian Peter Walker and Riazat Butt

Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters asked to leave by cathedral officials

Occupy London Stock Exchange camp refuses to leave despite cathedral plea

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 21 October 2011 at 9:19am BST | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Church of England

Morally speaking, this looks like a bit of an own-goal for the Cathedral and indeed for the church. One can see that the Cathedral probably had no choice in the matter, and I do think their professed reasons are sincere. Nobody could ever fault the Church of England for being insufficiently prudent. Still, it's not a stunning public display of courage, all things considered.

Posted by: rj on Friday, 21 October 2011 at 7:09pm BST

At least here in the US, there are changes needed to the financial and tax regulations that would prevent another recession of this magnitude. Among them are separation of merchant from deposit banks (Glass Steagall), a sharply progressive income tax for those earning over one million dollars per year, and requiring hedge fund managers to pay ordinary income tax. There are many other ideas floating around, including elimination of farm and tobacco subsidies.

If the "Occupy" demonstrators would start making concrete suggestions of this type, they would attract a large number of thoughtful people and might make a real difference.

The closure of St Paul's is hardly an accomplishment likely to produce anything worthwhile. After all, the Church has always been in favor of the "ninety-nine percent" and still is. The "Occupy" people have harmed the very institution most likely to speak out for the poor and for the ordinary person.

Posted by: Andrew on Friday, 21 October 2011 at 7:51pm BST

It seems to me that if Mayor Bloomberg of New York (definitely part of the 1%) with his phalanxes of club-wielding cops can come to an agreement with the protesters in Liberty Plaza, then something could be worked out between the cathedral, the protesters, and the City. The whole reason they are there is because the cops won't allow them anywhere near the Stock Exchange. The police must defend that center of the international financial industry against ... against... well, I'm not sure, shame and embarrassment perhaps.

Kudos to the cathedral and the dean for allowing the protesters to camp there. At least some parts of the Church of England are resisting the fate of so much of American Christianity, co-opted into the role of collection agency for the banks.

There appears to be a measure of good will between the cathedral and the protesters. There was none between our mayor and the protesters camped out here in New York.

Posted by: Counterlight on Friday, 21 October 2011 at 11:02pm BST

Oh come on, Andrew, Blaming the Victim much? And it's the Occupiers who have CREATED the space for (serious!) discussion for reforms like those you list in your first paragraph. [When just a few weeks ago, discussion was limited to "Austerity? Or MORE Austerity? (for those who can LEAST afford it---those tax cuts for the wealthiest won't pay for themselves!)"]

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 22 October 2011 at 1:28am BST

Thirty years ago we were discussing the fact that endless 'economic growth' was for many reasons unlikely to be possible, and how the world should be handled to provide good lives without it. The UK news media have (rightly) been discussion the reorganisation of banks since the fall of Lehman Brothers. Farms subsidies in Europe have been falling for decades, and now only exist in the form of subsidy for environmental protection. I know many many professionals who have done a bit to support the Occupy movement.

What the movement wants is something far, far more radical than reform of banking and ending of subsidy. The trouble is, that at the moment they do not have a clear vision of what it is - and neither do I. Let us pray that God in his mercy grants us that vision more clearly.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Saturday, 22 October 2011 at 8:33am BST

I find it very difficult to believe that the cathedral and the protesters can't find a way to co-exist. Closing the cathedral seems to me to be an extreme reaction to what must be a manageable problem.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Saturday, 22 October 2011 at 10:11am BST

These time-wasting bores should be forcibly removed from St Paul's by the police. Why choose the fore-court any way? The new development to the north of the cathedral would have been a better place, assuming that the protest was necessary at all. But St Paul's spokesmen have done few favours of the Church of England,least of all the Chancellor. In voice, sentiment and appearance he demonstrates the declasse mediocrity that now pervades the national Church.

Posted by: John Bowles on Saturday, 22 October 2011 at 12:07pm BST

It seems to me that both the protesters and the dean etc. at St. Paul's would rather the protest could be closer to the stock exchange.

The question is how to achieve that?

Posted by: Stephen C on Saturday, 22 October 2011 at 2:27pm BST

"These time-wasting bores should be forcibly removed from St Paul's by the police."

I believe Deng Xiaoping used this tactic once in 1989.

Posted by: Counterlight on Saturday, 22 October 2011 at 2:55pm BST

I've clicked on a number of the links and I still don't understand why St. Paul's shut down. Too much double-talk and dancing around the issues.

Is there any good reason for the cathedral to close, other than an attempt to convince protesters to leave? If that was the real point, it's probably not going to work.

Furthermore, to anyone who knows the west front of the cathedral, there's usually a crowd sitting on the steps anyway.

One suspects that St. Paul's has a massive infrastructure built up to profit from tourism -- gift shop, cafe, etc. -- and that this infrastructure is too expensive to keep open, if tourists stay away because of the protests. If this is the underlying issue, then the money changers truly are in charge of the temple.

Ditto if the cathedral is caving to pressure from City banking interests.

What a missed opportunity for St. Paul's to live the Gospel. Rather than demand that protesters leave, they should be holding services outside.

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 22 October 2011 at 3:19pm BST

"....time-wasting bores." Demonstrators, or Chapter?

Posted by: Lapinbizarre on Saturday, 22 October 2011 at 5:04pm BST

I wonder if the canons of St. Paul's would really consider something like this to be a desirable end to the protests:

Posted by: Counterlight on Saturday, 22 October 2011 at 6:00pm BST

I was planning to meet clergy colleagues on the steps of St.Paul's on Friday so maybe I should reserve judgement until then, but I thought a cathedral was supposed to be the kind of place that attracted crowds and those seeking compassion and justice .....

Posted by: Jon Hale on Saturday, 22 October 2011 at 6:31pm BST

Andrew says that "the Church has always been in favor of the "ninety-nine percent" and still is." I don't doubt that at its best the church has always attempted to take the side of the oppressed and dowtrodden (and indeed of the merely ordinary), but even the most charitable commentator would have to admit that it has not always succedded in showing this to its best advantage. From the comments I've seen on Twitter and elsewhere, this is largely seen as an act of the Established Church acting in the interests of the establishment.

The irony, of course, is that over the last three decades the C of E has been at odds with the political and financial authorities as never before over a wide range of issues, and many of its concerns are shared by the OLSX movement. The church may well find a sympathetic ear among the protesters (and vice versa) if it is willing to view them as a mission rather than as a danger and an annoyance.

Posted by: rjb on Sunday, 23 October 2011 at 5:40am BST

Doesn't St. Paul's have a door round the side of the building to allow worshippers access in order to offer worship?
Seems to me to be a massive over reaction to close down the cathedral. It reminds me of the swine-flu panic when for month after month worshippers were denied the chalice.
It took Basildon Council ten years to remove by force the residents of Dale Farm - I wonder if the Dean of St. Paul's is dug in for the long haul? If I were the Dean of Westminster Abbey I'd begin to make contingency plans to host next year's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Posted by: Father David on Sunday, 23 October 2011 at 7:37am BST

Perhaps the members of the Stock Exchange should offer to reimburse St.Paul's Cathedral for the loss of revenue sustained by the necessity for protest!
That could be a good move that might help the financial sector to regain some respectability.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 23 October 2011 at 11:34am BST

"Affectation has many faces."

Indeed it does. Exaggeratedly world-weary hyper-cynicism being not the least popular of them.

Posted by: rjb on Sunday, 23 October 2011 at 4:43pm BST

I suppose one ought to start feeling sorry for the Cathedral authorities, they can't win now what ever they do. But I still don't understand why some accomodation can't be reached with the protesters about health and safety issues and the concerns of the fire brigade to ensure safe access. Any attempt to clear the site is going to be a PR disaster for the Cathedral.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Sunday, 23 October 2011 at 8:25pm BST

Quite simply, the Cathedral have forgotten who they are supposed to be following.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Monday, 24 October 2011 at 12:09am BST

Dear Mr Bowles,

The word I'm thinking of for the prospective use of police armed with clubs and teargas on unarmed peaceful protesters outside a house of God is a Yiddish word, shanda.

Maybe Marx was right all along. The priest really is the landlord's best friend.

Posted by: Counterlight on Monday, 24 October 2011 at 1:11am BST

My take on this is that Giles Fraser let his cuddly radicalism run away with himself and marched his troops up the hill without working out how he was going to march them down again, and the Dean and Chapter are now engaged in recovering from the hole he's dropped them in.

He should have time limited it, and thought about what would happen if the small camp tents he supported suddenly multiplied 10 fold.

Instead, the Cathedral has instantly transformed from sympathetic supports to lying lackeys of the bankers because the protestors seem to have no concept anywhere between the two.

Rosemary is right (and a little more sympathetic than me). You can't engage politically with this movement because they are a rhetoric and stunt based movement with nothing coherent to say beyond - roughly - "waaah, we don't like it, and we demand that you fix it NOW".

They allege that democracy has failed and that the UK is like Egypt (or Libya ... or wherever else is convenient today), when they mean that our elected government won't do what they demand it do. Actually, we are still a democracy and the democratic process is still in place should they wish to participate.

The best analysis I've seen was Libby Purves in the Times this morning.

I think the cathedral is probably wise to close (although perhaps something could be done with a sidedoor), because some of the core - go down to St Pauls and read the posters, or watch the videos - are the same travelling mob which have been supporting violent protest around other demonstrations for the last 18 months from Millbank Tower to Dale Farm, meaning the SWP, Counterfire, Workers Liberty and any number of other factions.

One outcome if they kept their doors open would be a pitched battle inside the cathedral. Attractive, Father Giles?

I'd like to see it removed as quickly as is possible, and up until then strip away the silly rhetoric.

It's a policing problem. Treat it as such.

Posted by: Matt on Monday, 24 October 2011 at 5:07pm BST

"It's a policing problem. Treat it as such."

Gee, somehow I can imagine the chief priests and Pharisees saying exactly the same thing about Jesus.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Monday, 24 October 2011 at 9:50pm BST

>"It's a policing problem. Treat it as such."

>Gee, somehow I can imagine the chief priests and Pharisees saying exactly the same thing about Jesus.

No reply to the points made there, Pat.

Do you have anything to say?


Posted by: Matt on Tuesday, 25 October 2011 at 1:00am BST


If you want to get a measure on the hypocrisy of this "we will camp out in solidarity" PR stunt, consider that IR photos have shown 90% of the tents not to be occupied at night.

I call it a policing problem because that is exactly what it is - an attempt to get attention through dominating the media, with no coherent message behind it.

This is just the next bit of fuel for the bandwagon.

Let's face it down so that the other 99% of us can get on and fix the country.

Posted by: Matt on Tuesday, 25 October 2011 at 1:48am BST

Matt, what is wrong with wanting to get attention? In a world in which financial and economic processes are so complicated and interwoven that not even the bankers themselves seem to understand them all and politicians seem to be powerless to do more than tinker at the edges, why would the people from Occupy be able to present polished economic manifestos?

No, it's quite simple. People are experiencing in their own lives and in those around them that they struggle more than ever and they don't understand why that should be so when those supposedly in charge of our economy do not seem to pay any financial penalties for what is happening.

I'm alright, but my children’s generation has to pay massive fees to get an education, has less job security than we ever did, can’t save enough money to buy a house and lives in rented accommodation that is often more expensive than a mortgage would be and where landlords stipulate “no children”. They can’t live on one salary but they can’t afford childcare either. They have to save more than we ever did for their pensions, they spend decades looking after their own children and then after their parents because nursing care for old people is almost inhumane in far too many places as well as unaffordable.

There is a climate effect to deal with that most young people are very very much aware of, there are people starving through manmade (ours!) economic catastrophes all over Africa while donations dry up and Sudan barely got any headlines at all.

The news from America are shocking, a whole country sinking into a level of abandoning social care and compassion for others that would be unbelievable if we didn’t observe it with our own eyes. And what’s happening financially and economically in America has a huge impact on Europe.

Have you any idea of powerless people feel? How scared?
They don’t have answers – how could they, the whole world doesn’t seem to have credible answers.
But they deserve to be heard! After all, if they didn’t protest, people would happily continue to pretend that we’re not facing a global moral crisis, that our market economy needs to be underpinned by sound moral principles otherwise it does not serve us well.
If they can’t help us rediscover the truth that we are all responsible for each other, who will?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 25 October 2011 at 8:36am BST

So, Erica. You think that anarchy will fix the problems? Even Parliament cannot just make a resolution that will be an instant fix. I have personal memories of pre and post-war England, where some of us had little to eat, but we did not mutiny.
Self-interest is one of the enemies of community - whether from the monetarists or the urban masses.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 25 October 2011 at 10:26am BST

anarchy? Munity?
Are we following the same protests?

You know, I'm always amazed at people's responses. A few months back we had violent riots and looting in Britain and a lot of people commented on how, while they could not be condoned, they had to be understood because of the hopeless world so many of the rioters live in.

And now we have a huge world wide movement of calm and friendly people protesting against the same things and suddenly there's a huge amount of contempt for them, their motives, their methods and their message.

What, precisely, would you allow people to do to show that they are worried, that they don't have any answers but that they can see what's wrong in our society, that as individuals they're powerless?
Write polite letters to The Times?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 25 October 2011 at 1:08pm BST


I thought comparing your summation to the position of the chief priests and Pharisees was all the reply that was needed.

As for "coherent message", I think "things are damned messed up and we want something done about it," is pretty coherent. These are, for the most part, ordinary citizens involved in this protest--it's not their job to propose solutions; they are there to point out the problem.

If I go to the doctor with a pain in my side, it's not up to me to propose an appendectomy. If I go to the local authorities about a pothole in the road, it's not up to me to patch it.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 25 October 2011 at 6:11pm BST

I believe that the greatest internal threat to peace and security comes from those who worship at the altar of Ayn Rand, and who would say to anyone in need "go fix your own problems, go scrounge around for your own food, go get money from someone else to educate your children, go live under a railroad trestle if your haven't got the rent money."

We cannot survive as a society if the impoverished and the barely-making-it keep expanding and the super rich keep accumulating greater and greater percentages of the national wealth. My country, the US, is heading in the wrong direction on that point, and economic unfairness threatens our stability and our national prosperity. Other nations have similar risks.

The Occupy Wall Street protests (and others like them in the US and in Europe) have many questionable characters, as some have suggested about the crowd by St. Paul's, but these movements themselves rise above the peripheral characters. Justice and equity do matter, and sometimes -- witness Gandhi and Martin Luther King -- you need to violate civil laws to achieve just ends.

Posted by: Jerry Hannon on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 at 4:52am BST

Jerry, the absolute worst part of those Randians is that they *do absolutely none of that*!

They live off of everybody else, buying and selling what others produce, driving roads and using services paid for by others and maintained by others, then complain when told they owe something back out of what they've made from others' work and goodwill.

If they practiced their embittered prophetess' preaching, they'd be no problem because they'd be completely separated out from us and too busy struggling to survive to be a burden to the rest of us by their selfishness.

But, then, I'm told Ayn Rand's favorite publisher attributed her success to being the best writer of child's fiction he'd read.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 at 8:17am BST

"...go live under a railroad trestle if your haven't got the rent money."

I am reminded of the following:

"The law in its majesty forbids the rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges." - Anatole France.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 at 1:12pm BST
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