Parochial Pivot: St. Paul’s Cathedral Won’t Pursue Legal Action Against Occupy London

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BEN STANSALL/ AFP

A banner reading 'Revolution' is displayed in front of St Paul's Cathedral in the city of London on October 16, 2011 as part of a global day of protests inspired by the 'Occupy Wall Street' and 'Indignant' movements.

It’s only taken three resignations and scores of bad publicity, but St. Paul’s Cathedral has announced that they won’t be pursing legal action against the few hundred protesters camped outside their doors.

Since the Occupy London protest has set up camp near the historical cathedral, the church’s governing body has veered back and forth on their public position towards the movement. Their most recent tactic, which entailed joining the City of London in pursuing legal action to remove the anti-capitalism protesters, had received such a negative response from both the press and from within their own walls that it was clearly time for a new method. Only a day after the cathedral’s dean, Reverend Graeme Knowles, resigned, St. Paul’s issued a statement on Tuesday saying that they were no longer planning on trying to evict the camp.

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

Instead, the statement continued, Rev. Knowles resignation, the latest in a string of departing clerics, had allowed the church’s governing body, known as the chapter, to reconsider their approach. Since the clusters of tents were erected around the cathedral, just a few short weeks ago, St. Paul’s had faced criticism from nearly all corners for not aligning themselves with the group protesting inequality and poverty. Criticism, it seems, St. Paul’s took to heart. Their statement went on to explain that members of the church had “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.”

Of course, Occupy London isn’t quite in the free and clear yet. Though St. Paul’s has said that their decision to engage with the protestors was “unanimous” they’ve also acknowledged that the City of London, which co-owns the occupied land around the cathedral, has the right to pursue legal action. Yet by withdrawing their support of the legal process, St. Paul’s seems to have thrown a wrench in the City of London’s plans: they’ve also announced that they’re holding off on legal action, at least overnight, while officials discuss their next move.

Which isn’t to say that the City of London or, even, St. Paul’s aren’t planning to take the protesters to court in the future. It is interesting, however, that the Occupy London protest has been the only group to not waver on their intentions. And for the time being, it looks like they’ll be staying put.

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