As Occupy Wall Street protesters prepare to hold a rally tomorrow to fight for the right to set up shop in a vacant lot owned by Trinity Church, a pair of top Episcopalian bishops issued statements today urging the occupiers to make peace with the house of worship.
“Alarmingly, some clergy and protesters have attempted to ‘take’ or ‘liberate’ the space without Trinity’s consent, and have clearly indicated their intent to engage in other attempts to do so in the coming days,” said Mark Sisk, the Episcopal Church’s Bishop of New York. “The movement should not be used to justify breaking the law, nor is it necessary to break into property for the movement to continue. Together, let us pray for peaceful articulation, in word and deed, of the issues of justice and fairness that have brought the Occupy movement into the national conversation.”
Trinity Wall Street, which owns Trinity Church, is one of the largest landowners in Manhattan with six million square feet of property descended from a grant given to the Episcopalian church by the Queen of England in 1705. In the past, Trinity Church has permitted the protesters to use another location they own near Ground Zero for meeting space, wi fi and power outlets, but it has opposed allowing the occupation of the Canal Street lot, which is known as Duarte Park. Earlier this month, the church sent The Observer a statement that said Duarte Park isn’t fit for an occupation because it isn’t “suitable for large-scale assemblies” and is “licensed to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council for interim outdoor art exhibits which will resume in the spring.”
In his statement today, Bishop Sisk referenced Trinity Church’s past generosity toward the protesters and characterized the call to allow the occupation of the Canal Street lot as unreasonable.
“Trinity has clearly shown its support for the wider goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and has aided protesters directly through pastoral care and extensive use of parish facilities. They have said ‘yes’ to requests for meeting space, bathroom facilities, private conference rooms, housing referrals, and pastoral care, and continue to look for ways to provide direct support to those who identify with the movement in Lower Manhattan,” Bishop Sisk said. “Providing private land without facilities for indeterminate usage, however, poses significant health and safety concerns, and is beyond the scope of Trinity’s mission. To this, the parish has reasonably said, ‘no.’”
Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, also released a statement about the Occupy protests along with Bishop Sisk’s remarks.
“The Trinity congregation has decided that the property known as Duarte Park is not appropriate for use by the Occupy movement, and that property remains closed. Other facilities of Trinity continue to be open to support the Occupy movement, for which I give great thanks,” Bishop Schori said. “It is regrettable that Occupy members feel it necessary to provoke potential legal and police action by attempting to trespass on other parish property. Seekers after justice have more often achieved success through non-violent action, rather than acts of force or arms. I would urge all concerned to stand down and seek justice in ways that do not further alienate potential allies.”
Bishop Schori’s statement subsequently disappeared from the church’s website. Occupy Wall Street’s Duarte Park rally starts tomorrow at noon.