Protesters fight Exeter Cathedral move


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The Independent Online

Occupy protesters camping in the grounds of a cathedral have hit out at ecclesiastical authorities, questioning their Christian ethics as they take legal steps to evict the illegal tented village from church land.

The group that has been camped in the grounds of Exeter Cathedral in Devon for the last 10 weeks vowed to fight attempts by the church authorities to remove them and accused Canon Carl Turner, the acting dean, and his team of ignoring attempts to engage with protesters.

They claimed they were instead simply standing back and accusing them of encouraging homeless people to the camp, stirring up anti-social behaviour and damaging its usually pristine lawns.

The cathedral and the Diocese of Exeter announced last week that they were beginning legal steps to evict the protesters' camp, which has been set up along one side of the imposing medieval building on Cathedral Green since November.

It follows court action by church authorities in other parts of the country, including London and Bristol, to stop the protests.

"Whose interests do they represent, we ask," they wrote in a wide-ranging 1,800-word statement issued on their website.

"We are left wondering what the cathedral really thinks about economic and social justice. They do good work in the community, for sure - their support for (homelessness charity) St Petrock's is one example.

"Some people work with St Petrock's and Exeter Community Initiatives because they know it's the right thing, the truly Christian thing to do. Others, we suspect, are happy to show support at a distance, because they know it's good for their image.

"They're happy to support causes, and to support homeless people, on their terms, at the time and place that is convenient for them. But homeless people aren't nine to five, they need support at any time, so our inclusive, open community has clearly filled a gap."

Last week the cathedral chapter announced "with regret" that it would take legal action after the protesters rejected its offer for a "semi-permanent space" on the green in return for removing the camp.

It said: "The chapter is very disappointed by the response received to our proposal, which we believe offered a constructive way of ensuring that the issues of economic and social injustice - which concern us all - are kept in the public arena.

"The Cathedral Green is both a sacred space and a burial ground. The Chapter wishes to ensure it can be enjoyed by all the people of Exeter, and its occupation by one protest group is preventing this.

"There have been numerous incidents on site of anti-social behaviour, intimidation, drug abuse and vandalism, which have led to frequent call-outs to the police.

"Those living and working in the vicinity of the cathedral, including children at the Cathedral School, have had their daily lives disrupted by the presence of the camp, through noise, intimidation and verbal abuse. There is also a very real issue of public safety and hygiene in the vicinity of the camp."

The protesters deny many of the claims made by the diocese and said they would fight any attempts to move them on through legal means, adding: "Although we deplore this move, and would rather move forward through negotiation, we are ready for whatever is to come.

"So we say to the cathedral authorities, as they consider legal action against us: it's not too late to talk. Come back to the table and let's work it out.

"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. It's not a question of what Jesus would do - but what you will do."