AFTER a week like this, it’s going to be difficult for anyone who does the Church’s PR to sound convincing when he or she opposes assisted suicide. It is still more difficult to explain to anyone how St Paul’s got into the position where it was criticised by everyone from Jonathan Bartley to Ken Costa, and defended only by the pornographer Richard Desmond, whose Daily Express announced “a crusade” to rid the cathedral of the protesters.
There was some personal antipathy for Canon Giles Fraser after he resigned. Toby Young had a blog in the Telegraph, which must have taken him well over five minutes to write: “It’s hard to shed a tear for Dr Giles Fraser, the canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, who has resigned this morning. . . I’m guessing he knew he’d be forced to go in due course, having made such an ass of himself, and saw his chance to make it look as though the decision was entirely voluntary on his part.”
Gavin Drake, a former DCO in Lichfield, wrote a blog post “Good riddance to Giles Fraser”; and the Daily Express marked his resignation in its own way, too: “The news that the ancient landmark will reopen its doors to the public marks a swift victory for the Daily Express’s ‘Boot Them Out!’ crusade, aimed at removing the demonstrators in time for Remembrance Sunday next month.
“Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser quit yesterday amid a growing rift among church officials over how to deal with the crisis.”
But, apart from that, the reaction was overwhelmingly supportive. Even Lord Carey told the nation what it yearned to hear: “My paramount concern throughout has been that the reputation of Christianity is being damaged by the episode, and, more widely, that the possibility of fruitful and peaceful protest has been brought into disrepute.”
The Daily Mail played the story absolutely straight, though hard: it got a quote out of Canon Fraser’s mother about the fact that his younger brother Rupert is exactly the sort of banker against whom the protests are directed. But it also described him as “the first martyr” of the story.
THE most interesting piece, though, was Costa’s in the Financial Times. Naturally, as a man who has made untold squillions since the deregulation of the Big Bang, he believes that regulation is not the answer. But he does think that the protesters demonstrate a real problem:
“I have been in the City since before the Big Bang, whose 25th anniversary came this week. I have been through several recessions, but I cannot recall the underlying sustained anger across all social levels — from dinner parties to demonstrations — aimed at bankers and the market economy as a whole.
“Worldwide, there is an undirected expression of anger and deep frustration that financial markets have drifted from the ethical foundations on which they are supposed to be based. Resentment at asymmetrical rewards and risks is deep-seated and justifiable. If the demonstrators were the only expression of this anger, it might pass. But this voice stretches beyond the streets to governments, universities and the church.
“We are perhaps at a tipping point. While it is always risky to indulge in prophecy, I suspect that this deep-seated global concern about the way the free market operates will not go away.”
Now, it would be nice to believe that the Church listened to The Guardian, which ran an angry leader denouncing the cathedral as a whited sepulchre. But it would be frankly terrifying to suppose that the leadership of the Church does not listen to someone like Costa when he says such very surprising things. Obviously, he is wrong about the answer — when dealing with greed and ambition, law works a lot quicker and more reliably than grace — but at least he can see that there was a question that pompous silence cannot answer.
FROM a PR point of view, there was a special difficulty with the whole story. The Church of England is widely misunderstood to be an organisation. Therefore, the man at the top is expected to be able to control his subordinates. Thus the wider Church, which largely disagreed with the Chapter’s line, was unable to say anything to criticise it.
But these difficulties are made to be overcome. The fact that the cathedral had outsourced its PR to the Revd Rob Marshall, a nice man but one based outside Hull, suggests that the Church is so used to being ignored that, when the country was, for a moment, interested in its opinions, it was almost entirely unable to handle it.