Rev. Graeme Knowles, head of St. Paul's Cathedral, resigns over Occupy London protest

October 31, 2011

The head of St. Paul’s Cathedral resigned Monday amid an ongoing clash with London protesters inspired by Occupy Wall Street.

The Rev. Graeme Knowles, the dean of St. Paul’s, said in a statement that the escalating criticism in the media and in public opinion had rendered his position “untenable.”

The past two weeks, during which cathedral officials have been criticized for the way they handled the anti-capitalist demonstrations on their doorstep, have been a “testing time,” said Knowles, whose position requires him to submit his resignation to the queen.

Like clashes between authorities and Occupy protesters around the world, the crisis engulfing one of Britain’s most famous churches shows no signs of abating. The cathedral and local authorities are expected to launch court proceedings this week to evict the 200 or so demonstrators.

Knowles is the third clergyman in a week to resign over the cathedral’s handling of the sprawling, multi-colored tent city. He reportedly was the driving force behind the decision to close the cathedral for a week over “health and safety” concerns, which critics say was a failed attempt to uproot the camp.

On Friday, the cathedral reopened its heavy oak doors after closing for the first time since World War II.

Breaking his silence on the conflict, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said that Knowles’s resignation was “very sad news.” He also said that “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.”

Over the weekend, the Independent newspaper reported that St. Paul’s Institute, a research arm of the cathedral, had postponed a report on the moral standards of bankers that was due to be released last Thursday.

The bishop of London, who is the third-most-senior member of the Church of England and who has urged the protesters to leave, met with the group Sunday and stressed that there was “no use for violent confrontation.” He will be assisting the cathedral until a new dean is found.

The Occupy London protesters, many of whom dressed up as “zombie bankers” for Halloween, said in a statement: “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. Nor have we ever called for ‘scalps’ as reported in the media.”

Karla Adam is a reporter in the Washington Post’s London bureau. Before joining the Post in 2006, she worked as a freelancer in London for the New York Times and People magazine.
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