St Paul's Cathedral Re-Opening to Public, With Prayers for Anti-Capitalist Protesters Camped Outside

By JILL LAWLESS | October 28, 2011 | 6:55 AM EDT

Supporters of the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest take part in a mass meditation on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral in London, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011. The senior St. Paul's Cathedral priest who welcomed anti-capitalist demonstrators to camp outside the London landmark resigned Thursday, saying he feared moves to evict the protesters could end in violence. Other senior clergy and politicians urged the campers to leave peacefully, as the cathedral announced it would reopen to the public Friday after a weeklong closure triggered by the demonstrators' tents. (AP photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON (AP) — St. Paul's Cathedral was opening its doors to the public Friday after a weeklong closure, as a former head of the Anglican church accused clergy of bungling their response to anti-capitalist protesters camped outside.

Clerics planned to reopen the church with a special midday Eucharist service, including prayers for the demonstrators massed outside the building.

Several hundred protesters have been camped outside the building since Oct. 15. Days later, cathedral officials shut the building, saying the campsite represented a health and safety hazard.

It was the first time the 300-year-old church, one of London's best-known buildings, had closed since World War II.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said the situation had become a "debacle" that could damage Christianity's image.

"My paramount concern throughout has been that the reputation of Christianity is being damaged by the episode, and, more widely, that the possibility of fruitful and peaceful protest has been brought into disrepute," Carey wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Prime Minister David Cameron Friday called for the stalemate to be resolved. He said he supported the right to protest, but this did not include "the freedom to pitch a tent almost anywhere you want to in London."

"I have a feeling that if you or I decided to pitch a tent in the middle of Oxford Street we'd be moved on very quickly," Cameron told reporters at a Commonwealth summit in Perth, Australia. "It's vitally important places like St. Paul's Cathedral are open to the public."

The protest has divided managers of the cathedral. Some have called for the protesters to leave, but senior clergyman Giles Fraser resigned Thursday, saying he feared moves to evict the camp could end in violence.

The local governing authority, the City of London Corporation, was meeting Friday to hear legal advice on the best way to remove the protesters — but that could be a long process, complicated by the tangled ownership of the medieval patch of London on which the cathedral stands.