The protesters camping at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London’s financial heartland place the Church of England in a moral quandary.
The Occupy London Stock Exchange activists were given a 48-hour ultimatum to decamp or be forced to leave, but the authorities have since backtracked.
The tents have been on Anglican Church property and land owned by the Corporation of London for two weeks.
The Cathedral re-opened for religious business this morning, after it had been shut for seven days, officially on health and safety grounds.
The only time that has happened before was down to bombing by Hitler’s Luftwaffe in World War Two.
This time around, every day tourists could not get in cost St Paul’s more than 15,000 pounds in lost earnings.
Some of the church-goers sided with the tent people in questioning pay rates for captains of industry and finance — City bankers and workers.
Worshipper Sheila McKenna said: “I would like to see us come up with ways of shrinking that disparity between rich and poor.”
Worshipper Sybil Wesley said: “I think it’s ridiculous that top directors pay has gone up by 50% when the country is in the state it’s in. I don’t object them earning good money but I think in the current economic climate it’s ridiculous to receive that much more money.”
The Occupiers have divided the Anglican hierarchy. The dean of St Paul’s quit on Monday amid stiff criticism of the legal course taken to clear the campers.
On the other hand, the senior clergy forced out Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser, who had asked the police to move off, supporting the democratic right of peaceful protest.
The Church has scrambled to strike a balance.
The Reverend Canon of St Paul’s, Michael Hampel, said: “While we have requested that the camp move on, we do not want its central message to move on. We want to work with the people here to find out how their protest, how their message, can stay here at St Paul’s cathedral. If it takes weeks or months to get a peaceful solution we are up for that.”
The protesters have put the British Church establishment in the spotlight as much as the Stock Exchange, drawing attention to the 40 million pounds in donations St Paul’s has received in recent years from such City of London banks as Goldman Sachs, UBS and HSBC.