There are always one or two people in public life who are a kind of touchstone. They only have to open their mouths and you find you disagree with them. Michael Howard, for example, and don't let's forget Polly Toynbee.
Former archbishop George Carey was another. But, would you believe it, he has said something which I emphatically agree with, in his article about the St Paul's protest, and the moment when the cathedral gave sanctuary to the protesters. He wrote:
"For countless others, though, not least in the churches, this was a hopeful sign that peaceful protests could indeed take place at a time when so many civil liberties have been eroded. Furthermore, it demonstrated that the Church is willing to play a sympathetic role in the lives of young people who are drawn to a movement calling for economic justice.
"However, after their initial welcome to Occupy, the cathedral authorities then seemed to lose their nerve. In daily-changing news reports, the story see-sawed between a public debate about the merits or otherwise of the protest, the drama of internal disputes at St Paul’s over lost income from tourists, and the ill-defined health, safety and fire concerns that caused it to close its doors to worshippers.
"One moment the church was reclaiming a valuable role in hosting public protest and scrutiny, the next it was looking in turns like the temple which Jesus cleansed, or the officious risk-averse ’elf ’n safety bureaucracy of urban legend. How could the dean and chapter at St Paul’s have let themselves get into such a position?"
Good question. Sadly, Carey gets almost as muddled as the cathedral authorities as the article continues, talking about 'anarchist protesters threatening the right to worship'. For goodness sake, how does he work that one out?
But I absolutely share Lord Carey's frustration with the church over this issue, and especially when it comes to the Bishop of London's intervention, claiming that the protests are a 'distraction' from the cathedral's own role in building a dialogue with the bankers and financial world.
It is fine, and right, that the Church of England should have a dialogue with the financial world. But if this is the only tone of voice they are prepared to use against the tyranny of finance over life - the most important and urgent threat to civilisation - then they are not living up to their role of the body of Christ in the world.
Worse, Dr Chartres implies somehow that the church is some kind if ineffable BBC, endlessly balanced and unbiassed on every issue, however desperate. As Churchill once said to the BBC: how can you be unbiassed between the fireman and the fire?
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