If they still haven’t got the answer, the events at St Paul’s this week must have spelt it out. Canon Giles Fraser, that rare thing today, a popular, charismatic, radical clergyman, felt that his great cathedral had to choose between vocal anti-capitalist protesters and the fat cats of the City of London who wanted them silenced. Fraser backed the demonstrators, whose manifesto chimes so readily with both public disquiet at the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, and gospel values.
But Fraser’s boldness horrified rather than inspired most of his colleagues. This is no longer a church with a taste for outspoken figures such as Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, the radical voice of anti-apartheid protest in the 1950s and 1960s, or Bishop David Sheppard, who in the 1970s joined forces with his Roman Catholic counterpart, Derek Worlock, to stop Liverpool going bankrupt, or even Archbishop Robert Runcie in the 1980s, who risked Margaret Thatcher’s fury when he published the Faith in the City report on urban deprivation. Her cabinet condemned that document as Marxist, but Runcie stuck to his guns and won renewed respect in secular times for the CofE because it showed itself more capable than most of standing up to the government.
So Fraser’s leadership was greeted by back-stabbing and gossip. “Everyone calls him the Socialist Worker Padre,” one bland senior cleric told me with a sly and dismissive laugh. “People like him have no place at St Paul’s,” suggested another, as if Wren’s great cathedral should never be seen as dirtying its hands by contact with contemporary injustice.