Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral stepping down after Occupy protests

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LONDON — The Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral quit Monday, the second high-profile clergy member to step down over anti-capitalist protests that have spilled across the historic church’s grounds.

The resignation of Graeme Knowles leaves the cathedral without a leader and will delay its planned legal action to evict the protest camp — though the neighborhood’s governing body says it will formally ask the protesters Tuesday to leave, and will go to court if they refuse.

Knowles said his position had become “untenable” as criticism of the cathedral mounted in the press and in public opinion. Knowles had urged protesters to leave the cathedral area to allow it to reopen its doors.

Officials shut the church to the public on Oct. 21, saying demonstrators’ tents were a health and safety hazard. It was the first time the 300-year-old London church had closed since German planes bombed the city during World War II. After a public outcry, it reopened Friday.

Knowles’ resignation follows that last week of Giles Fraser, a senior St. Paul’s Cathedral priest who had welcomed the anti-capitalist demonstrators to set up camp outside the landmark, inspired by New York’s Occupy Wall Street movement. He said he resigned because he feared moves to evict the protesters could end in violence.

The protesters said Knowles’ resignation showed that the management of St. Paul’s is “obviously deeply divided” over the protests. But in a statement on the Occupy London website, the movement said it had never called for any “scalps” from the clergy.

“Our cause has never been directed at the staff of the cathedral,” the group said. It called for an “open and transparent dialogue” between demonstrators and those urging campers to move.

Knowles, 60, called the past two weeks a “testing time” and said his decision to step down did not come easily.

“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 said in a statement. “I hope and pray that under new leadership these issues might continue to be addressed and that there might be a swift and peaceful resolution.”

St. Paul’s officials said Knowles made his decision known on Sunday night and has already removed himself from operations.

Both the church and the local authority, the City of London Corporation, announced last week they were going to court to clear scores of tents from a pedestrianized square and footpath outside the cathedral.

But cathedral spokesman Rob Marshall said legal proceedings had not yet started, and the governing chapter “is now discussing a range of options in the wake of the resignation of the dean.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 1, 2011, as: Cathedral's dean resigns after concerns of violence