LONDON—Shaken by criticism of its handling of anticapitalist protesters on its doorstep, St. Paul's Cathedral said it is suspending legal action to have the Occupy London camp evicted.
Reversing course after appearing to side against the protesters, St. Paul's said it decided to drop legal measures after late-night talks with the bishop of London, Richard Chartres, who loosely oversees the cathedral.
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St Paul's Cathedral in London, where anti-capitalist protesters have been camped for more than two weeks.
The move prompted the City of London to "press pause" on its own, separate legal action to evict the campers, though it suggested it may go to court if negotiations don't lead to the campers moving. "We're hoping to use a pause—probably of days not weeks—to work out a measured solution," the city said on Tuesday.
The bishop of London, meanwhile, invited the former chairman of UBS Europe and Lazard International, Ken Costa, to lead a new group of financial-services and church leaders aimed at "reconnecting the financial with the ethical," according to a statement from St. Paul's and the bishop. Located in London's financial district, St. Paul's is the city's main church for the Anglican faith.
The anticapitalist protesters have said they never intended to target the cathedral—they wound up camping at its steps after being denied access to the nearby London Stock Exchange. But by rocking St. Paul's leadership, the encampment has drawn greater attention to its cause, allowing it to claim a victory for the global Occupy campaign.
"The alarm bells are ringing all over the world. St. Paul's has now heard that call," Bishop Chartres said. "Today's decision means that the doors are most emphatically open to engage with matters concerning not only those encamped around the cathedral but millions of others in this country and around the globe."
In an editorial published online Tuesday in the Financial Times, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Church of England, said he was joining the Vatican in supporting three changes to the financial system: the separation of routine banking from speculative transactions; obligations on banks receiving public bailout money to help "re-invigorate the real economy;" and a so-called Robin Hood tax of 0.05% on financial transactions, with the money raised to be invested in the real economy. If world leaders can agree on these three changes, "the struggles and questionings alike of protesters and clergy at St. Paul's will not have been wasted," the archbishop wrote.
St. Paul's initially welcomed the campers when they set up in mid-October, but later tilted toward legal action to remove them, causing one top priest, Giles Fraser, to resign in protest. A week into the protest, the cathedral shut its doors for the first time since World War II, calling the tents a fire hazard.
On Friday, St. Paul's said it planned to take legal action against the campers. That sparked a barrage of criticism, causing the head of the cathedral, Graeme Knowles, to resign on Monday.
St. Paul's governing body, known as the chapter, called the past few weeks "an enormously difficult time for the cathedral."
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"Legal concerns have been at the forefront in recent weeks but now is the time for the moral, the spiritual and the theological to come to the fore," Michael Colclough, canon pastor of St. Paul's and a member of the chapter, said in Tuesday's statement.
In a phone interview, Mr. Costa, who serves as warden of a large church in London's genteel Knightsbridge neighborhood, said he was still drawing up plans for the new group the bishop had asked him to lead. The initiative will make "pragmatic suggestions" that financial-services practitioners can "embrace" to ensure they conduct their work ethically, he said.
In an Oct. 28 opinion piece in the Financial Times after visiting the protest camp, Mr. Costa wrote: "The cure is not more legislation, or increased regulation. It is the pressing need to reconnect the financial with the ethical."
People walk by protest posters surrounding the Occupy London camp outside St. Paul's Cathedral on Tuesday.
The mood was celebratory Tuesday evening in the protest camp, where a trio played "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" on flute, guitar and bongos. Charlie Veitch, a 31-year-old protester who lost his job in the banking sector after the fall of Lehman Brothers, welcomed St. Paul's move but expressed concern that the city government is "more belligerent than the church" and could still move to evict campers.
He called the church's new initiative with the financial sector admirable but said: "The pessimist in me says greedy people aren't going to change just because the church or some guy writes reports saying we should all be huggy, peace-and-love hippies."
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