Desmond Tutu Sides with the Occupy Movement (Sort Of)

The retired archbishop said Trinity Church should work with protesters now camping on its vacant lot. Then he clarified: protesters shouldn't break the law, either.

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At first, it seemed Archbishop Desmond Tutu had sided wholeheartedly with the Occupy movement, telling Trinity Church in lower Manhattan that it should allow protesters to remain on vacant land it owns. The clergy are increasingly coming around to join with Occupiers, the Guardian reported in its exclusive about Tutu's statement.

In a letter to OWS, Tutu describes Trinity Church, on Wall Street, as an "esteemed and valued old friend" but said it caused him pain to hear of the impasse in negotiations between OWS and the church over the site.

"Sisters and Brothers, I greet you in the Name of Our Lord and in the bonds of common friendship and struggle from my homeland of South Africa. I know of your own challenges and of this appeal to Trinity Church for the shelter of a new home and I am with you! May God bless this appeal of yours and may the good people of that noble parish heed your plea, if not for ease of access, then at least for a stay on any violence or arrests."

He said: "I appeal to them to find a way to help you. I appeal to them to embrace the higher calling of Our Lord Jesus Christ – which they live so well in all other ways – but now to do so in this instance...can we not rearrange our affairs for justice sake?"

There is potential for conflict on Saturday, the three-month anniversary of the protests and a proposed "day of action" for the Occupy movement to re-take areas from which campers have been evicted. At issue with Trinity is a vacant lot it owns on Canal Street, and which the church's "real estate arm" is seeking to develop into housing. The church defended its decision, and by the end of the day on Friday, so did someone else.

Desmond Tutu.

In a statement posted on the church's web site, Tutu said he had challenged Trinity Wall Street "out of love."

I also now challenge those who disagree with Trinity. My statement is not to be used to justify breaking the law. In a country where all people can vote and Trinity's door to dialogue is open, it is not necessary to forcibly break into property. Nor is it to reinforce or build higher the barriers between people of faith who seek peace and justice. My deep prayer is that people can work together and I look forward to that conversation.

Tutu's clarification is now being parsed in the comments section of the church's web site (pause for a moment to consider that concept). Is it just an attempt to save face? Or just another plea to get along?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.