Bishop comes face to face with protesters – but won't back down


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The Independent Online

The Bishop of London said he does not want the anti-capitalist protest outside St Paul's Cathedral to end in violence, as he defended a legal challenge which could lead to the camp's eviction.

Speaking to hundreds of protesters on the cathedral's steps yesterday, the Right Rev Richard Chartres said he shared demonstrators' concerns about corporate greed, but refused to abandon the legal route which has shaken the Church of England.

He told demonstrators the site had become an "experiment" and "laboratory" for democratic protest and the legal bid did not mean "we are on the inevitable road to violence".

"Whatever happens, nobody wants violence," he said. "There is nothing that will efface the value of what's been done better than violence." But he countered: "The camp could be taken over by people who are very different from the ones who are in charge at the moment. I think it is a prudent measure."

Today, as two legal challenges to remove the 200 Occupy London Stock Exchange tents in the financial district begin, the cathedral will attempt to quell protesters' frustrations over the bishop's tone, which appears to be confrontational yet conciliatory.

St Paul's, left reeling after two resignations last week, is said to still be "agonising" over its eviction decision and is working on potential solutions – including a permanent tent protest within the building.

A cathedral insider said another option was to ask protesters to reduce the size of the camp – but that would cause friction between the cathedral and the City of London Corporation.

Both go the High Court today seeking to break up the camp, but while the Corporation – which looks after interests in the Square Mile – is keen to evict protesters with force if necessary, the cathedral wants to avoid the prospect of police dragging protesters away from the religious landmark.

The Rev Graham Knowles, the Dean of St Paul's, who has been criticised after the cathedral closed for a week for the first time since the Blitz, said there was no financial pressure to close or take up the legal fight.

"I find it quite difficult you assume I do not hold the same views as you simply because I don't use the same methods of expressing my views as you," he told demonstrators. "We do have to allow ourselves space to do things in different ways as well as doing things together."

A spokesman said the Dean and the cathedral are considering "all options".

As well as a scaled-down tented protest, it is understood St Paul's is open to the idea of having a tent inside the cathedral "for as long as necessary".

All sides agree any eviction would only follow months of legal wrangling. Meanwhile, protesters remain adamant they will not be moving.

Yesterday, one protester, Tammy Semede, told the Bishop, Dean and assembled crowd the Church's stance had caused her doubts about her faith.

"I went for Communion [in the cathedral] and didn't feel I was able. The Church's behaviour has affected my faith," she said.

One piece of good news for St Paul's was the decision by a cathedral canon to stay. Canon Mark Oakley was said to be considering resigning but yesterday used Twitter to confirm he will not.

Last week, Dr Giles Fraser, the canon chancellor of St Paul's, and the Rev Fraser Dyer, a junior chaplain at the cathedral, quit over the decision to pursue legal action to break up the camp.

Dr Chartres also said a report by the St Paul's Institute – a wing of the cathedral – on business ethics would be released, but he refused to say when.

Expected to attack banking ethics, and due to be released on the day of Dr Fraser's resignation last Thursday, its delayed publication had caused more controversy for the troubled Church.