On Monday, the crisis at St Paul's, amidst the presence of Occupy London on the grounds, deepened with the resignation of Dean Graeme Knowles, the head of the Cathedral. In his statement, the Dean said, “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.”
That is the headline news. But, looking forward, the implications of another sentence bear watching: “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.”
In an accompanying comment, the Bishop of London acknowledged the Chapter's request, and restated his desire to facilitate a discussion, including the protesters, “While St Paul’s is not on any particular political side --- that is not its role – it does have an important part to play in providing a place for reasoned debate within a moral and spiritual context."
And the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams broke his silence over the protests with his own statement:
The announcement today of the resignation of the Dean of St Paul's, coming as it does in the wake of the resignation of Canon Giles Fraser last week, is very sad news. 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.
The news came on the same day that the City of London announced it was beginning eviction proceedings against the protesters, the cause it seems of much of the turmoil within the Church as many fear that legal process will end in the use of force.
The news also emerged as the Greek government announced it will hold a referendum on the European bailout of the debt-stricken country with the potential to throw the Eurozone into a terminal crisis. And the International Labor Organisation and the OECD, in separate reports, warned of another world recession.
However, most of the "serious" British press remained locked on "St Paul's Crisis Deepens Theme" as their lead .
For the Daily Telegraph, it was "St Paul's branded 'laughing stock". For The Times, "St Paul's protest triggers Church crisis". The Guardian has "St Paul's brought to its knees by confusion and indecision", which begins with the rather unfortunate and erroneous assertion, “It is a national icon that survived the Great Fire of London.”
What this says about the priorities of the British media --- and to be fair to print journalism, this was also was lead for the BBC --- is up to you. But for international observers who regard this as a trifling parochial matter, especially in the US with its constitutional commitment to the separation of Church and State, there are considerations related to the Church of England as the established religion that make this more than an insignificant embarrassment.
For instance, it is the Queen's constitutional responsibility to appoint a new Dean --- one wonders quite what the ex-Dean gave her as his reasons for his resignation, and more importantly how she replied --- to oversee the Cathedral. And the Bishop of London sits in the House of Lords.
This is how the Church of England's official website describes their input: “26 bishops of the Church of England sit in the House of Lords. Known as the Lords Spiritual, they read prayers at the start of each daily meeting and play a full and active role in the life and work of the Upper House.” With the representation of the Church via its Lords Spiritual in the British Parliament currently under review, as the Government ponders modernising Britain's unwritten constitution, this preoccupation with the specifics of how St. Paul's is handling the Occupy London protest could grow into a serious consideration of the role of the Church in the British parliamentary democracy.
Meanwhile, the Occupy London press release responding to the Dean's resignation has received little attention, other than a few comments noting its marked lack of sympathy for the Dean in sharp contrast to its treatment of the resignation of Canon Giles Fraser last week. That is an oversight: the press release ended with this sharp warning for the Bishop of London that his commitment to “providing a place for reasoned debate within a moral and spiritual context” is not going to happen on his preferred ground:
We reiterate the need for open and transparent dialogue involving all parties, including the Cathedral, the Corporation of London and others, through our relevant liaison groups. This is a historic opportunity to make a real difference and a real change for all in our society, in the UK and beyond.
For Occupy London, it is their liaison groups, which are only representatives of a General Assembly where all decisions are made by consensus, which will lead the dialogue; and not the Church. But more worryingly for the clergy, the last fortnight has raised questions not only about its authority to lead discussions on social justice in this particular instance, but for the foreseeable future as well. Put it this way: who doubts that, when the question of the relevance of the representation of the Church in the House of Lords is finally resolved, that the past two weeks will not provide most of the context for the decision?