Ex-archbishop wrings hands at St Paul’s ‘debacle’

By Alex Stevenson

Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey has waded into the debate over the Occupy protest at St Paul's cathedral with an outspoken attack on his Church of England colleagues.

He claimed the reputation of Christianity was being damaged by the episode and hit out at the cathedral's authorities for seeming to "lose their nerve".

St Paul's is set to re-open today, one week after shutting its doors for the first time since the Second World War because of health and safety concerns. The anti-capitalist encampment had severely curtailed access to the cathedral.

Lord Carey pointed out that the Blitz had only shut the cathedral for four days as he demanded "urgent public debate" within the Church of England.

"One moment the church was reclaiming a valuable role in hosting public protest and scrutiny, the next it was looking in turns like the temple which Jesus cleansed, or the officious risk-averse ’elf ’n safety bureaucracy of urban legend," he wrote in an article for the Telegraph newspaper.

"How could the dean and chapter at St Paul's have let themselves get into such a position?"

Lord Carey, who said he "had a great deal of sympathy for the raw idealism of the protesters", appears to have sympathy with canon chancellor Giles Fraser, who initially welcomed the protesters a fortnight ago.

Dr Fraser resigned yesterday amid a high-pressured debate within the cathedral about the potential use of the police to remove the protesters from the site through force.

"At a time when secularists are striving to drive Christian voices from public life with strident campaigns to abolish church schools and council prayers, and when workers can be suspended for offering to say a prayer for colleagues or for wearing a cross, it seems that on the doorstep of St Paul's, of all places, yet another blow has been struck against Christian worshippers," Lord Carey continued.

"In this case, 'anarchist' protesters threatened the freedom to worship – one of our most basic and hard-fought-for rights – by forcing the cathedral authorities to halt public access."

He called the encampment a "parable for our times" and warned it risked contributing to a deeper sense of cynicism among the general public.

"It would be a tragedy now if, by the mismanagement of the St Paul's authorities and the self-indulgence of the protesters, the right of peaceful protest and the urgency of widespread public debate became the subject of even greater cynicism and apathy," he concluded.

"This opportunity to rebuild our ailing public life around gospel values of public service, self-restraint, equality, hard work and charitable concern for the poor, must not be squandered."

The Occupy protest outside St Paul's has distracted attention from a smaller-scale encampment in Glasgow city centre, where around 20 tents have been pitched in George Square.

The city council has issued a letter of expulsion to the protesters, the Scotsman newspaper reported.

Its bid to end the Glasgow protest is not thought to be linked to the rape of a 28-year-old woman in one of the tents early on Wednesday morning.