Giles Fraser – a principled stand

Giles Fraser ex-Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral

I haven’t always been a great fan of Giles Fraser. I was referring to him in my article where he was criticising Fresh Expressions last year. He can come across as too strident.

His resignation today as Canon Chancellor over the camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral shines a strong light on how we do negotiations in this country under all the laws that we possess.

Imagine that you are Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral. I know its difficult but play along here.

You have the clergy paid for by the Church Commissioners.

But in addition you have 100 staff paid for to keep the place open and to allow worshippers, visitors and others to use the Cathedral. You also have all the upkeep to go with it – the repairs etc etc

There is also the educational side of things such as the St Paul’s Institute, which

seeks to foster an informed Christian response to the most urgent ethical and spiritual issues of our times: financial integrity, economic theory, and the meaning of the common good.

Now along comes a group of people who wish to protest against the excesses of the City and originally wanted to have their protest in Paternoster Square nearby. They are moved on and end up at St Paul’s because the land is not public land (in fact it is jointly owned by the City of London Corporation and St Paul’s).

So, you don’t demand that they leave. You understand that this protest has a legitimacy (whether you agree or not with it). But then the problems start to occur.

Firstly, the Health and Safety advice is that because of the risk of fire and hazard that you must close the Cathedral. The Dean and Chapter will have been obliged, legally, to have accepted the advice given. I strongly suspect that if they had ignored it that they might have become personally liable – and if anything had gone wrong that could have been catastrophic not only for themselves but also for their family and St Paul’s.

Secondly, the interview that Giles gave today indicates that any negotiation with the occupiers would have given them legal rights. He says

“I support the right to protest and in a perfect world we could have negotiated. But our legal advice was that this would have implied consent.”

In other words negotiating with these people implied that St Paul’s had consented to their staying on the land. The Corporation of London wanted to move them.

The Dean and Chapter and all of us have agreed to be governed by rules that all too easily lead to confrontation and daft decisions, rather than common-sense compromise. Giles would appear to prefer to take the liability and go with compromise. Being Dean means that you carry the can for the whole Cathedral and that brings with it a sense of responsibility for everyone using the place and the staff in it.

So the Dean and Chapter are left in this invidious situation.

Giles has resigned because he could not allow the Church to be seen siding with violent moves to move the protesters. He said

“The church cannot answer peaceful protest with violence”

I agree with him on this one and his stand is a principled one.

But the issue isn’t totally clear cut.

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