From the editor’s desk
Forgiving their trespasses5 November 2011
God does indeed move in mysterious ways, not least in the City of London. The well-meant but inarticulate protest by a campful of demonstrators in the churchyard of St Paul’s Cathedral was initially met head-on by a well-meant but inarticulate response from the dean and chapter.
In a classic demonstration of how not do things, they declared that for ill-defined health and safety reasons St Paul’s would have to be closed for business indefinitely, thus succeeding where Hitler’s Blitz on London had failed.
The outcry was considerable, St Paul’s being a national treasure and key London tourist attraction, and the Church of England looks inept or even daft. But by transforming grace, or so it may seem, brands have been plucked from the fire of this public relations debacle and as a result some of the underlying issues have been receiving far more serious attention than they might otherwise have done.
The point of the protest, which the church authorities manifestly misread at first, was to draw attention to the failings of the world economic and financial system, of which the City of London, alongside Wall Street, stands at the heart. It is inarticulate in so far as its visceral indignation at the behaviour of global capitalism lacks any clear idea of what could replace it. The cathedral governing body, seeing that the encampment was an illegal trespass, thought the appropriate response was to have the campers evicted by bailiffs. It apparently did not think the failings of international financial capitalism – sometimes described as casino capitalism but with very few winners and very many losers – were any of its business.
This tramline thinking quickly led to the resignation of Canon Giles Fraser, who had publicly sympathised with the campers, followed by another of the cathedral’s clergy, followed by the resignation of the dean himself, the Revd Graeme Knowles.
The Bishop of London having intervened, the chapter promptly reversed its position and withdrew from its alliance with the Corporation of London, the local government authority for the City’s square mile, in seeking an eviction order through the courts. The Corporation then lost faith in that remedy too, and put legal proceedings on hold.
Under the leadership of Bishop Richard Chartres, the cathedral has begun to reclaim the high moral ground and started to address the issues of principle the protesters had raised. Meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, entered the debate with a highly articulate declaration of sympathy with the protesters.
He pointed in the direction of Rome, indeed, from where a statement applying Catholic Social Teaching to the problems of the global financial system had appeared last week under the authority of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Dr Williams ended his article in the Financial Times by saying: “The best outcome from the unhappy controversies at St Paul’s will be if the issues raised by the Pontifical Council can focus a concerted effort to move the debate on and effect credible change in the financial world …”
The Vatican office backed the proposal for what has become known as a Tobin Tax, named after its Nobel Prize-winning inventor, on international financial transactions. Such a system would generate huge cash flows for new investment, but more importantly still, calm international money markets and discourage speculation. This has gained favour in the European Union with the possible exception of Britain, where it was seen as a threat to the autonomy and profitability of the City – unless all financial centres were affected equally. That might involve the creation of some global financial authority, which the Pontifical Council also proposed.
So the St Paul’s protesters, via the dean and chapter, the Bishop of London, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Vatican, have managed to move the Tobin Tax up the international agenda. And the Tobin Tax might be just what the international financial system needs to mend its behaviour and assuage public anger – as displayed in St Paul’s churchyard. That would be some achievement.
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In this week’s issue
‘Two concepts pulling in different directions’
Art and the spirit
Strictly not for turning
A question of conscience
Saving the children
Rough justice for minorities
Don’t look now
Well read and well informed
Churches under-valued or over-estimating themselves?
Francis Davis, guest contributor
Hume knew Alan Hopes would one day be bishop
Fr Mark Woodruff, guest contributor
Anglican patrimony is becoming a reality
Don't get cynical about the impact of campaigns
Geoffrey Chongo, guest contributor
The Pope and the redemption of atheists
From creation to 're-creation'
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