Published: Oct 31, 2011 4:17 PM EDT

LONDON (AP) - The Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London said Monday he is resigning following criticism over the church's handling of anti-capitalist protests on its 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.
    
Knowles 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, 60, 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 the 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.
    
The protests 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, which reopened Friday, had closed since German planes bombed the city during World War II.
    
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.

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