LONDON — The Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London on Monday became the second high-profile clergy member to step down amid mounting controversy over anti-capitalist protests on the church's grounds.
Graeme Knowles said that as criticism of the cathedral has mounted in the press and in public opinion, his position has become untenable.
His resignation follows that last week of Giles Fraser, a senior St. Paul's Cathedral priest who had welcomed the anti-capitalist demonstrators to camp outside the landmark. He said he resigned because he feared moves to evict the protesters could end in violence.
Senior clergy have been divided over how to handle the scores of tents, inspired by New York's Occupy Wall Street movement, that are set up outside the iconic cathedral near the River Thames in central London — an issue protesters highlighted in their response to Knowles' resignation.
Protesters said on the Occupy London website that while the management of St. Paul's is "obviously deeply divided" over the protests, the movement has never called for any "scalps" from the clergy.
"Our cause has never been directed at the staff of the Cathedral," the group said. It called for an "open and transparent dialogue" between demonstrators and those urging campers to move.
Knowles, 60, called the past two weeks a "testing time" and said his decision to step down did not come easily.
"Since the arrival of the protesters' camp outside the cathedral, we have all been put under a great deal of strain and have faced what would appear to be some insurmountable issues," he said in a statement. "I hope and pray that under new leadership these issues might continue to be addressed and that there might be a swift and peaceful resolution."
St. Paul's officials said Knowles made his decision known on Sunday night and has already removed himself from Cathedral operations.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams called Knowles' decision to step down "very sad news" in the wake of Fraser's earlier resignation.
"The events of the last couple of weeks have shown very clearly how decisions made in good faith by good people under unusual pressure can have utterly unforeseen and unwelcome consequences, and the clergy of St. Paul's deserve our understanding in these circumstances," he said in a statement.
On Sunday, clergymen and demonstrators held talks aimed at avoiding a violent confrontation over the camp.
Both the church and the local authority, the City of London Corporation, have launched legal action in the hope of clearing scores of tents from a pedestrianized square and footpath outside the cathedral.
That prompted a part-time chaplain, Fraser Dyer, to resign last week. Dyer said he was "embarrassed" by the decision to take legal action to try to evict the protesters.
The campers led the cathedral to close for a week on health and safety grounds amid concerns the tents were blocking access to the popular site for worshippers and visitors. It was the first time the 300-year-old church had closed since German planes bombed the city during World War II.
St. Paul's reopened on Friday after campers agreed to rearrange their tents, but the City of London Corporation then said it was launching legal action on the grounds that the protest is an "unreasonable user of the highway."
Demonstrators erected the tents outside the church on Oct. 15, during a thwarted attempt to stage a protest outside the nearby London Stock Exchange.
Britain's High Court will decide whether to allow authorities to forcibly clear the protest camp. Many expect the legal process to be lengthy and complex.
Associated Press writer Robert Barr contributed to this report. Cassandra Vinograd can be reached at http://twitter.com/CassVinograd