Archbishop Freier acknowledged the concerns of the Occupy movement during the recent meeting of the Melbourne Diocesan Synod, even as St Paul’s Cathedral in London lost three of its clergymen, including the Dean, and closed its doors for the first time since the Blitz as it struggled to respond to protests around it.

Dr Freier, in remarks before the Friday night session of Synod on 21 October at Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral and again during the all-day session on Saturday 22 October, acknowledged the Occupy Melbourne demonstration and the rights of people to protest and of others to go about their normal business.

Occupy Melbourne protesters had been evicted from the City Square, behind the cathedral, on the Friday. When Synod representatives emerged from the Great West Door for the lunch break on the Saturday, they were greeted by police, wearing helmets and face shields, on horseback facing Federation Square (directly opposite the cathedral), to which some protesters had moved.

“I acknowledge the worldwide concern that there is something wrong with the practices and strategies which can lead to nations being bankrupted,” Archbishop Freier told Synod on 21 October.

“I further acknowledge that the developing world does not begin to have access to the resources of those
Western world countries which are in trouble.”

He then asked the Synod to “bring these matters to God in prayer”.

The following day, Archbishop Freier noted the presence in the streets around the cathedral of protesters, saying “we continue to pray for them and for our world”.

“Outside also are the police who – as we who work here saw them yesterday – are trying to enforce order peacefully.

“Let us also now pray for a peaceful resolution of protest and for the police of our city in their difficult task.”
In London, Christopher Wren’s masterpiece became the focus of  the Occupy protest as cathedral authorities
and leaders of the wider Church of England struggled to respond.

Occupy London protesters tried to set up a camp outside the London Stock Exchange in Paternoster Square on 15 October but were repelled. They moved to the steps of St Paul’s and, a day later, the Canon Chancellor of the cathedral, the Revd Dr Giles Fraser, welcomed them and asked police to move away from the steps.
But on 17 October, the Dean, the Revd Dr Graeme Knowles, and Chapter expressed for the first time their concerns about the effect of the camp on the life of the cathedral.

On 21 October, St Paul’s was closed for what turned out to be a week, on safety grounds.
Bishop Richard Chartres of London said on 25 October that the demonstration had “undoubtedly raised a number of very important questions”, that the St Paul’s Institute had focused on the issue of executive pay and he was involved in discussions with City leaders about improving shareholder influence on excessive remuneration.

“Nevertheless, the time has come for the protestors to leave, before the camp’s presence threatens to eclipse entirely the issues that it was set up to address,” Bishop Chartres said. “The Dean and the Chapter, who are responsible for St Paul’s, have already made it clear that the protest should come to an end and I fully support that view.”

On 27 October, Dr Fraser resigned. That day, in an article in The Daily Telegraph, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, condemned the closure of St Paul’s as a debacle and described the Occupy London protest there as “a parable of our times”.

“The Blitz only closed St Paul’s for four days,” he wrote. “By contrast, the Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters, camped outside Wren’s masterpiece, managed to put it out of business for a week. It has been a debacle that should prompt urgent public debate both within the Church of England, and throughout society at large.

“It would be a tragedy now if, by the mismanagement of the St Paul’s authorities and the self-indulgence of the protesters, the right of peaceful protest and the urgency of widespread public debate became the subject of even greater cynicism and apathy. This opportunity to rebuild our ailing public life around gospel values of public service, self-restraint, equality, hard work and charitable concern for the poor, must not be squandered.”
Cathedral authorities announced on the same day that the building would reopen on 28 October, with a 12.30pm Friday Eucharist at which those camping outside were among those to be prayed for.

But the convulsions were not yet over. As the cathedral reopened, the Dean and Chapter announced that as the protesters had not acceded to requests to leave the cathedral precinct in peace, “legal action has regrettably become necessary”.

“The Chapter only takes this step with the greatest reluctance and remains committed to a peaceful solution,” a cathedral statement said.

“Theirs is a message that the Chapter has both heard and shares and looks forward to engaging with the protesters to identify how the message may continue to be debated at St Paul’s and acted upon.”
That day, a part-time chaplain at St Paul’s, the Revd Fraser Dyer, quit.

Then, on 31 October, the Dean announced that he would resign. St Paul’s issued yet another statement: “In the light of the Dean’s resignation, the Chapter has unanimously voted to request the Bishop of London to assist them in providing an independent voice on the ongoing situation at St Paul’s. The Bishop has had no part to date in the discussions and decisions made by Chapter and it is felt his input is now required.”
Dr Knowles said it had become increasingly clear to him that, as criticism of the cathedral had mounted in the media and in public opinion, his position as Dean of St Paul’s “was becoming untenable”.

Bishop Chartres said he was very sad to hear of the Dean’s decision “and believe he has acted honourably in a very difficult situation”.

“The Chapter has now requested me to help them find a way forward. I have repeated over the past few weeks my own desire to shift the attention to the economic and moral challenges which our country, in common with so much of the rest of the world, is having to face.”

Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, in his first public remarks on the Occupy movement, said he was saddened by the resignations at St Paul’s.

“The events of the last couple of weeks have shown very clearly how decisions made in good faith by good people under unusual pressure can have utterly unforeseen and unwelcome consequences, and the clergy of St Paul’s deserve our understanding in these circumstances,” Dr Williams said.

“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.”

On 1 November, the Archbishop – in an article in The Financial Times headed “Time for us to challenge the idols of high finance” – wrote that there was still a powerful sense, fair or not, “of a whole society paying for the errors and irresponsibility of bankers; of impatience with a return to ‘business as usual’ – represented by still-soaring bonuses and little visible change in banking practices”.

“The best outcome from the unhappy controversies at St Paul’s will be if the issues raised... can focus a concerted effort to move the debate on and effect credible change in the financial world,” Dr Williams wrote.
That same day, the Chapter of St Paul’s announced that it had unanimously agreed to suspend its current legal action against the protesters.

“The resignation of the Dean, the Rt Revd Graeme Knowles, has given the opportunity to reassess the situation, involving fresh input from the Bishop. Members of Chapter this morning have met with representatives from the protest camp to demonstrate that St Paul’s intends to engage directly and constructively with both the protesters and the moral and ethical issues they wish to address, without the threat of forcible eviction hanging over both the camp and the church.”

Bishop Chartres invited investment banker, Mr Ken Costa, to lead an initiative reconnecting the financial with the ethical, it said. Mr Costa was to be supported by City, Church and public figures, including Dr Fraser, “who although no longer a member of Chapter, will help ensure that the diverse voices of the protest are involved in this”.

In New York, where the Occupy movement had its genesis, the Rector of Trinity Wall Street, the Revd Dr James H Cooper, responded as early as 5 October. Occupy Wall Street protesters had camped in Zuccotti Park, near Trinity, weeks earlier.

“Trinity Wall Street respects the rights of citizens to protest peacefully and supports the vigorous engagement of the concerns that form the core of the protests – economic disenfranchisement and failure of public trust,” he wrote.

“As a prayerful community with a deep history of relationships in Lower Manhattan, Trinity continues its pastoral outreach and welcomes any of those involved in the ongoing situation to parish spaces.

“As the protest unfolds, I invite you to hold all those involved in your prayers: the protesters, neighborhood residents and business owners, the police, policy-makers, civic leaders, and those in the financial industry... and to consider the ways we might take steps in our own lives that improve the lives of others.”

 

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