The senior St. Paul’s Cathedral priest who welcomed anti-capitalist demonstrators to camp outside the London landmark resigned on Thursday, saying he feared moves to evict the protesters could end in violence.
Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser said on Twitter that “it is with great regret and sadness that I have handed in my notice at St. Paul’s Cathedral.”
He told The Guardian newspaper that he had resigned because he believed cathedral officials had “set on a course of action that could mean there will be violence in the name of the church.”
Rev. Fraser’s departure reveals divisions among cathedral clergy over how to handle the protest on their doorstep. Dean of St. Paul’s Graeme Knowles confirmed Rev. Fraser had stepped down, saying officials were disappointed that he “is not able to continue to his work ... during these challenging days.”
Protesters have been camped outside the building since October 15. When police tried to move them the next day, Rev. Fraser said the demonstrators were welcome to stay and asked police officers to move instead.
He later issued a statement stressing that “the Christian gospel is profoundly committed to the needs of the poor and the dispossessed. Financial justice is a gospel imperative.”
Days later, cathedral officials shut the building to the public, saying the campsite was a health and safety hazard. It was the first time the 300-year-old church, one of London’s best-known buildings, had closed since World War II.
Cathedral officials, and the bishop of London, have since asked the demonstrators to leave, but they are refusing to go.
Rev. Knowles said on Wednesday the cathedral was considering all its options in response to the protest including legal action.
But in a victory for the protesters, he said the cathedral hoped to reopen on Friday following changes to the layout of tents.
In a statement, the Occupy London protesters called Rev. Fraser a “man of great personal integrity.”
The protesters said Rev. Fraser had “ensured that St. Paul’s could be a sanctuary for us and that no violence could take place against peaceful protesters with a legitimate cause challenging and tackling social and economic injustice in London, the U.K. and beyond.”
Similar camps have sprung up across the United States and around the world since activists took over a plaza near New York’s Wall Street last month to protest corporate greed and social inequality. Many have withered or been dismantled, sometimes by force.
The local governing authority for St. Paul’s, the City of London Corporation, says it is taking legal advice on the best way to evict the protesters but that could be a long process, complicated by the tangled ownership of the medieval patch of London on which the cathedral stands.
The protesters say they will fight eviction and have hired high-profile lawyer John Cooper, who has said he will defend the group for free.
Rev. Fraser, 46, a high-profile and liberal Anglican clergyman, was appointed chancellor of the cathedral in 2009.
The role involves overseeing the work of the St. Paul’s Institute, which “seeks to bring Christian ethics to bear on our understanding of finance and economics.”
The cathedral and the protest tent city lie within London’s traditional financial centre, which is called the City.
Rev. Fraser, a former Vicar of Putney in south London whose father came from a prominent London Jewish family, is well known through his newspaper and magazine columns and frequent appearances on BBC radio.
He has criticised the effects of the government’s austerity measures.
“Should the church get stuck into the mucky world of politics? How ridiculous, of course it should,” he wrote in the Guardian in June, going on to quote the late Brazilian bishop Helder Camara: “When I give to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”