A chauffeur-driven bishop, and a Church that refuses sanctuary


Our capital city, with its historic buildings and rich cultural life, draws millions of tourists each year. But, despite the colossal wealth enjoyed by a tiny fraction of its population, London contains some of the worst pockets of poverty in the UK. This state of affairs has been put in the national spotlight by the actions of around 300 people, camping peacefully outside St Paul's Cathedral.

Having initially allowed protesters to stay, St Paul's decided that for health and safety reasons the cathedral would close until the protesters leave. (It may re-open tomorrow.) Protest leaders and their lawyers have pleaded with St Paul's to explain the health and safety risks, but to no avail. Could there be ulterior motives?

To all intents and purposes St Paul's owner, the Church of England, operates as an international corporation, with an investment fund of around £5.7bn secured through private equity income, stock exchange investments and a vast property portfolio.

The most senior cleric to intervene so far is the Bishop of London, the Rt Hon Dr Richard Chartres, whose private residence happens to be opposite the square the protesters occupy. Dr Chartres is the primary representative of the Church in the Royal Court. He has announced he would like the protesters to leave, but has made not a single mention of safety.

Dr Chartres is renowned for his conservative political outlook, and has been criticised for his "chauffeur-driven lifestyle". Despite his professed fondness for the Oyster card, in the most recent year for which records are available he spent more than £17,000 on a private car and chauffeur. The Bishop and others in the church are entitled to a comfortable lifestyle and their own political standpoints, but when the central message of the church is called into question in a time of unparalleled greed and growing inequality, should it not do more to side publicly with the 99 per cent of the population who do not share the wealth of the few?

A good start would be renewed dialogue with the protest movement, and potentially a new, and unprecedented, coalition to campaign for the social and economic changes both parties wish for, to transform their city and country for the better.