Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Church of England does U-turn over Occupy London protests

Bishop scraps legal bid to evict campaigners

The Church of England yesterday announced it was abandoning legal action against anti-capitalist protesters who have set up camp outside St Paul's Cathedral.

In a day of fast-moving developments in the fortnight-long stand-off between the demonstrators and the Square Mile's civil and ecclesiastical authorities, the Bishop of London and the cathedral's governing body said they wanted to engage “directly and constructively” with the protesters and would no longer seek an eviction order to clear the 200-tent camp.

The change of stance — which had previously seen the bishop, Richard Chartres, explicitly lend his support to legal action to end the protest — placed the cathedral on a collision course with the City of London Corporation.

The municipal body, which owns much of the land surrounding St Paul's, later announced it had “paused” until today its own eviction proceedings.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, last night entered the eviction row by saying the Church of England had become an unwitting lightning conductor for societal discontent at the financial sector and it has a role to play in seeking solutions.

Writing in the Financial Times, Dr Williams said: “The Church of England and the Church Universal have a proper interest in the ethics of the financial world and in the question of whether our financial practices serve those who need to be served or have simply become idols that themselves demand uncritical service.”

In a statement, Dr Chartres and the Chapter of St Paul's said a “unanimous” decision had been reached to focus on the “moral and ethical” issues raised by the demonstrators without the “threat of forcible eviction” by the cathedral.

The bishop, who is now in charge of the cathedral's response to the crisis following the resignation on Monday of its dean, the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, said Giles Fraser, the former canon chancellor who resigned last week in protest at the eviction plans, would return to take part in an initiative aimed at “reconnecting the financial with the ethical”.

Religious commentators say St Paul’s has enjoyed a close relationship with the City in the past.

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