Leader: St Paul’s: going in the right direction

02 November 2011

LAST week’s leader, in which we advised the Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral against supporting what we termed a disastrous application for an injunction against the protest camp, obviously appeared too late to be of use. The decision had been made before we went to press, leading to the resignation of Giles Fraser, a Church Times columnist, as Canon Chancellor. There have been plenty of recriminations since then, and there seems little point in adding our own, especially after the resignation of the Dean on Monday. There has been the inevitable ridicule from some quarters, but we believe that the Chapter’s U-turn on Tuesday was both courageous and correct, and accords with the majority view in the Church. That two of the houses in Amen Court are now occupied by able men no longer on the Chapter is a remind­er of the cost of mishandling the situation so spec­tacularly.

The resignations indicate the seriousness of the debate. The Chapter will be aware that its new path is likely to demand more sacrifices — of time and effort, certainly, and possibly of City donors. It will attempt to keep its own integrity, but its support of the protests, whatever the caveats, will take it down an uncertain path. That way lies unpopularity with the Govern­ment and the City, perhaps; but to accompany the City Corporation down its earlier path had the clear potential to be far more damaging for the cathedral and for the wider Church.

If the promised debate is to have an effect, it cannot be seen as a handful of protesters prodding along a reluctant Church. The Church has an impressive history of critical engagement with the Government and the financial institutions over the morality of the marketplace. Every parish, after all, ministers routinely to the victims of the present unbalanced economy. There is a sophistication in the Church’s approach, which ranges from academic books and papers on the global economy — including the suppressed report from the St Paul’s Institute on the consequences of “Big Bang” deregulation — to the pursuit of an ethical investment policy by the Church Commissioners; from the persuasive work of clergy in some of the City of London churches, to the transformations being enabled by parishes and charities such as the Church Urban Fund.

The problem with such a sophisticated and disjointed approach is that it can fail to include a prophetic element. The task for St Paul’s now is to work out a way in which the unfocused energy of the protest camp can be used to galvanise the debate. For their part, the protesters need to shed some of their self-indulgence, which, ultimately, means disbanding. This is more likely to happen once they see that the Church is taking their side against a financial system that has run loose from moral restraint. The contributions of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Financial Times, and of the Bishop of London here, are a significant first step.

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