Church's crisis of conscience over protest as St Paul's is set to reopen

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By Paul Cahalan

St Paul's Cathedral looks set to reopen tomorrow as the Church of England appeared to be in the grip of a crisis of conscience surrounding its stance on London's anti-capitalist protest.

Those camping outside the cathedral, which on Friday was shut for the first time since the Blitz, are campaigning to topple the capitalist system – but yesterday succeeded in creating division within the church. Last night, as the cathedral remained closed for a fifth day, the Dean of St Paul's, The Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, said he was optimistic the cathedral, which is in the heart of London's financial district, would reopen to the public.

He said that the decision had "followed significant changes to the layout of those dwelling in tents outside of the cathedral".

But, he added: "We reiterate our basic belief in the right to protest as well as requesting that those people living in the tents now leave the site peacefully."

On Wednesday, Reverend Knowles said that St Paul's had been forced to close because of health and safety issues, although the cathedral refused to make public that advice or say who gave it.

Dr Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London who is the third most senior cleric in the Church of England, echoed the Reverend Knowles' call, saying that the protesters "should leave".

But one of the cathedral's chapter members, Canon Giles Fraser was understood to have threatened to resign if the church tried to rid its grounds of the demonstrators. His views echoed many of those in the church who felt the demonstration, campaigning against corporate greed and for a better distribution of wealth, is a perfect fit with Christian teaching.

The City of London Corporation said it was considering a High Court bid to remove 200 tents belonging to protesters. In response, Occupy London said it would fight the move on human rights grounds.