St Paul’s Cathedral was derided as “a national laughing stock” as it was plunged into disarray with the resignation of its dean amid mounting criticism of its handling of the protest camp on its doorstep.
The Rt Rev Graeme Knowles, the Dean of St Paul’s, stepped down after becoming ever more isolated in his bid to take legal action to evict the Occupy London activists.He became the third and most senior victim of the debacle, following in the footsteps of the Rev Dr Giles Fraser, Canon Treasurer, in resigning as his position became “untenable”.Last night, the Rt Rev Dr Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, England’s third most senior cleric, was forced to take charge of cathedral operations as Mark Field, Tory MP for Cities of London and Westminster, said the charade had turned St Paul’s into a “national joke”.
He said: “The whole thing is farcical. You couldn’t make it up. It’s gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. This tented community has been there for two weeks and has hardly brought the foundations of capitalism to its knees.“Ironically, the only capitalist organisation that has lost out is St Paul’s. I suspect that these resignations will only ensure that these protesters become more entrenched.”
The Dead of St Paul’s had pushed hard for the church hierarchy to back legal action by the Corporation of London to remove the 200 or so tents from St Paul’s churchyard.But the seven-strong chapter, depleted by the loss of Dr Fraser, were increasingly getting cold feet, concerned that the process would end in violence.
Eventually, the dean, already facing criticism over the closing and subsequent reopening of the Church, felt his position was “untenable”.The development resulted in the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, wading into the fray for the first time, warning that “urgent” issues raised by the protesters needed to be properly addressed.He said the resignation was “very sad news” and that the events of the past fortnight had shown “how decisions made in good faith by good people under unusual pressure can have utterly unforeseen and unwelcome consequences”.
Dr Williams added: “The urgent larger issues raised by the protesters at St Paul’s remain very much on the table and we need – as a Church and as society as a whole – to work to make sure that they are properly addressed.”The dean, 60, informed Dr Chartres, of his decision just hours after facing a barrage of questions from protesters as he addressed them directly on Sunday.In a statement, he said that “criticism of the cathedral” in the press, media and in public opinion” had forced his hand and that a “fresh approach” from “new leadership” was needed.
“I do this with great sadness, but I now believe that I am no longer the right person to lead the chapter of this great cathedral,” he said.His resignation led to an emergency meeting of the chapter which is expected to immediately withdraw support for any eviction.The Daily Telegraph has been told that the Rt Rev Michael Colclough, Canon Pastor at the cathedral and a former Bishop of Kensington, has been appointed acting Dean but it will take several months for a permanent replacement to be made.A source said: “Mr Knowles was the strong one. He was pushing for eviction albeit peaceful but the others were having major doubts.
“Many felt they should have gone with Giles. They are very, very uncomfortable with the idea of using force to evict the camp.“The dean knew that if push came to shove, the other members would cave in and the legal action would be dropped at the last minute.”
Dr Chartres, said it was a “tragedy” for the man and “challenging times” for the church.”I was very saddened and shocked last night to hear his decision,” he told a press conference. “It’s been one of the most challenging weeks in the recent history of St Paul’s and I think you can understand and sympathise with the decision the dean has taken.
“The organisation of the Church of England is a great mystery to me, so nevermind for (those) outside.”He evoked the image of the cathedral surrounded by smoke during the Blitz and that it was a symbol of “freedom”.“The question is now in the 21st century what is the role of St Paul’s,” he said.He denied that the church would now distance itself from the legal action.“We are not taking a softer line, the camp site has to disappear at some point,” he said. “It has to scale down. But I am told by the Chapter that they would not wish to condone violence.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s former spokesman, Rev George Pitcher, said the dean had fallen on his own sword after “naively and unwittingly” embarking on a course of action that could only lead to violence.He said: “The Corporation of London has adopted a very traditional, hawkish City role and I suspect the dean’s feet were held to the fire.”
The Occupy London movement issued a statement saying that the management of St Paul’s Cathedral was “obviously deeply divided over the position they have taken in response to our cause – but our cause has never been directed at the staff of the cathedral.”Dr Fraser, who last week warned that to evict the anti-capitalist activists would constitute “violence in the name of the Church”. said last night: “The dean is a great man and it will be a sad loss to the cathedral.”He said he had played no part in the chapter meetings as he was on “gardening leave”. – Thetelegraph