LONDON — The head of St Paul’s Cathedral resigned on Monday after facing criticism for trying to evict protesters inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement from outside the central London landmark.
Dean Graeme Knowles said he was leaving with “great sadness” but hoped for a peaceful resolution to the row over the hundreds of demonstrators who last week forced the closure of the church in the capital’s financial district.
“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,” Knowles said in a statement.
“In recent days, since the arrival of the protesters’ camp outside the cathedral, we have all been put under a great deal of strain and have faced what would appear to be some insurmountable issues,” he added.
Knowles is the third churchman to resign over the row at the historic cathedral, which announced last week that it was taking legal action to remove more than 200 tents which sprung up in the churchyard two weeks ago.
The dispute over the Occupy LSX (London Stock Exchange) protesters has plunged the Anglican church itself into crisis as it wrings its hands over how to handle the demonstrators while maintaining its principles.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the leader of the world’s Anglicans, called Knowles’s resignation “very sad.”
“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,” Williams said in a statement.
Fraser, the canon chancellor of the cathedral, resigned last week saying he disagreed with cathedral policy and feared that violence would be used against the protesters. A part-time cathedral chaplain, Fraser Dyer, also resigned.
The Church of England leader said the “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.”
An Occupy LSX spokeswoman who gave her name only as Lucy said the protesters were “very sad and very shocked” about the resignation of Knowles.
“This isn’t about collecting scalps from the Church,” she told AFP as a group of protesters went off in a Halloween procession, many of them dressed as zombie bankers.
But she added: “We’re going to keep talking about the issues and St Paul’s has a key part to play in publicising those issues.”
Bishop of London Richard Chartres, who has himself faced criticism over the row, will assume temporary control of the cathedral, St Paul’s said in a statement.
The cathedral closed last week for the first time since World War II on the grounds that the anti-capitalist camp posed a health risk, but it finally reopened on Friday.
St Paul’s is one of London’s top tourist destinations, and closure to visitors was costing it around £20,000 ($32,000, 23,000 euros) a day in lost donations.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has called for the protesters to leave, saying the freedom to rally should exclude important sites.
Protests inspired by Occupy Wall Street in the United States and Spain’s “Indignants” have spread to more than 80 countries and attracted thousands of people.