St. Paul’s Protester Problem: Third Cleric Resigns Over Occupy London

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Rev. Graeme Knowles speaks during a meeting with Occupy London protestors outside St Paul's Cathedral on October 30, 2011

The London arm of the worldwide Occupy Wall Street movement has proved its ability to shake up an institution, as a third senior cleric from St. Paul’s Cathedral has resigned in less than three weeks.

The Occupy London protest has been camped outside the historic church for a little more than two weeks, and St. Paul’s muddled response to the anti-corporate greed protesters has already resulted in public backlash, dissent within the church’s governing body and even resignations.

(MORE: A Canon Quits As St. Paul’s Flip-Flops on Occupy London)

On Monday, Reverend Graeme Knowles, the dean of St. Paul’s, announced that he would be resigning from his position in the wake of criticism over the cathedral’s managing of the protest camp issue. With his announcement, Rev. Knowles joins two other senior clerics who’ve recently left St. Paul’s over the protest. Last week, canon chancellor Giles Fraser resigned, saying he thought that the cathedral’s opposition to the protest signaled they were “set on a course of action that could mean there will be violence in the name of the church.” Just days later, a part-time chaplain, Fraser Dyer, resigned because, as he noted on his blog, he was dismayed by St. Paul’s decision to evict the camp, and he did not “relish the prospect of having to defend the cathedral’s position in the face of the inevitable questions that visitors to St Paul’s will pose in the coming weeks and months.”

However, unlike Fraser and Dyer, Rev. Knowles’ resignation didn’t seem to boil down to a problem of ethics, but instead suggested a problem of publicity. On Sunday, Rev. Knowles was joined by the bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, on the steps of St. Paul’s to discuss the issues facing the cathedral with the protesters. Unfortunately, the meeting didn’t result in a peaceful compromise as Chartres maintained that the camp would be evicted. The following day, the dean resigned.

“It has become increasingly clear to me that, as criticism of the cathedral has mounted in the press, media and in public opinion, my position as dean of St Paul’s was becoming untenable,” Rev. Knowles said in a statement, acknowledging the escalating criticism the church has been facing over its flip-flopping response to the protesters since they set up camp on Oct. 15.

(PHOTOS: Occupy Wall Street Protests Go Global)

While Rev. Fraser initially welcomed the protesters on the property that St. Paul’s partially owns (the City of London is the co-owner), less than a week later Rev. Knowles announced that the cathedral would be closing its doors due to safety hazards caused by the protest camp. After one more about-face – the doors are once again open – and the announcement that the cathedral will be pursuing a legal eviction of the camp, the public backlash against St. Paul’s seems to have reached unmatched levels.

The protesters have voiced regret over each resignation and continually noted their desire to work with, not against, St. Paul’s. About the latest resignation, they’ve issued a statement saying, “The management of St Paul’s Cathedral is obviously deeply divided over the position they have taken in response to our cause – but our cause has never been directed at the staff of the Cathedral.”

This has, however, clearly helped Occupy London’s cause. Writers, pundits and politicians have all spoken out against St. Paul’s actions and consequently, even if only by default, they’ve lent support to the protest. One of the motivating ideas behind the Occupy movement is that the protesters make up the “99 %,” and therefore have the democratic power to change the system. By first aligning themselves with the “1%”— by, among other things, allying with city officials who are keen to evict the protesters — only to more or less implode under public backlash, St. Paul’s has only confirmed the protesters’ theory.

All things considered, this doesn’t bode well for the Occupy movement’s real target: the financial system.

Megan Gibson is a Writer-Reporter at the London bureau of TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeganJGibson. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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