On Friday, with protest leaders saying they planned to remain indefinitely, St. Paul’s officials chose to join in the lawsuit, precipitating an acrimonious debate within the Church of England, and among the protesters. The cathedral had already closed its doors, suspending tourist visits and religious services, a step not taken since World War II. Although it was partially reopened on Saturday, cathedral officials stuck to their demand for an end to the camp. Citing health and safety rules, they said the cathedral could not operate with protesters preparing meals over campsite gas cookers on the approaches, and blocking accessways that would be needed for an emergency evacuation.
One of the cathedral’s top officials, Canon Giles Fraser, had already resigned, saying he could not accept a forcible dismantling of the camp if the lawsuit is upheld. He was followed by a second cleric at the cathedral. Quickly, a wide rift opened within the church, with some, like Mr. Fraser, saying that the church’s mission to seek social justice should make it the protesters’ natural ally, and others saying the overriding concern had to be clearing camp so St. Paul’s, which draws thousands of worshipers every week, could continue to operate.
The rift has added to deep divisions in recent years within the church and among its priests and bishops over the role of women, gays and lesbians. But the split over the St. Paul’s protest threatens to be more rancorous because it goes to the core of a theological dilemma the church has faced for centuries: whether, and when, as the country’s “established” church, with the monarch as its head, it should follow the social radicalism that Jesus demonstrated when he overturned the money lenders’ tables in the temple, or act, in effect, as a handmaiden of the prevailing social and political order.