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Leading churchman quits over London 'Occupy' protests

By Bryony Jones, CNN
November 1, 2011 -- Updated 0933 GMT (1733 HKT)
  • The Dean of London's St. Paul's Cathedral has resigned, saying his position was "untenable"
  • Occupy London activists set up camp at the landmark just over two weeks ago
  • Cathedral authorities have said they will take legal action to try to have the camp removed

London (CNN) -- The Dean of London's historic St. Paul's Cathedral has resigned amid criticism of his handling of a large "Occupy" protest taking place on the church's doorstep.

The Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, who is in charge of the centuries-old cathedral, announced his decision on Monday, saying his position was "becoming untenable" following weeks of debate over the demonstrations.

St. Paul's has come under fire after it said Friday it would take legal action to try to remove around 200 tents from the square outside its main entrance.

"Since the arrival of the protesters' camp outside the cathedral, we have all been under a great deal of strain, and have faced what appear to be some insurmountable issues," Knowles said in a statement.

"I now believe that I am no longer the right person to lead the Chapter of this great cathedral," he said, adding he hoped there would be a "swift and peaceful resolution" to the protest dispute.

I am no longer the right person to lead the Chapter of this great cathedral
Graeme Knowles, Dean of St.Paul's

The Right Reverend Michael Colclough, who works for the chapter, said news of Knowles' decision had been received "with a heavy heart, after one of the most challenging weeks in the recent history of this great cathedral."

Occupy London activists set up camp outside St. Paul's just over two weeks ago when their attempt to storm the nearby London Stock Exchange failed. The cathedral, located in London's financial district, is one of the UK's top tourist attractions and staged the wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles in 1981.

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Police attempted to forcibly remove protesters at the start of the standoff, but the Chancellor of St. Paul's, Canon Giles Fraser stepped in, voicing his support for the demonstrators.

Days later, the cathedral closed its doors to visitors amid health and safety concerns over the encampment.

Fraser, whose backing for the protest had made him a hero to some of those camping out in the shadow of St. Paul's, resigned last Thursday.

The following day, the cathedral announced that "with the greatest reluctance" it would be taking legal action against the demonstrators. The cathedral reopened to visitors last Friday.

Cathedral authorities have repeatedly said they will not support the use of force against activists.

On Monday, Dr Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, reiterated that pledge.

"The last thing we would condone is the use of violence. The campsite has to disappear at some point, it has to be scaled down, but we do not want violence used in securing expulsions."

Chartres also appealed for the message of the protests not to be forgotten.

"There is a huge danger that important issues are getting lost in the confrontation between cathedral and camp," he said, urging a "reasoned and respectful debate."

Protesters at the camp expressed their sadness at news of Knowles' resignation.

"It is a bit of a shame," one man told CNN. "I think there has been a lot of pressure on him, and I suppose his position was untenable. It shows that there are still some good men left in the church -- or there were, until today anyway."

"I don't really know where this leaves us," another said. "We didn't start this to upset the church, and we're not out to criticize them, so it is sad that two people have now left their jobs."

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