Episcopal Clergy Arrested At Occupy Wall Street Protest


By Sharon Sheridan

A retired Episcopal Church bishop and at least two other Episcopal priests were arrested on 17 December after they entered a fenced property owned by historic Trinity Episcopal Church in Lower Manhattan as part of an event to mark the three-month anniversary of the anti-corporate Occupy Wall Street movement.

Livestream video showed George Packard, former Episcopal bishop for the armed forces and federal ministries, dressed in a purple robe and wearing a cross, climbing a ladder that protesters erected against the fence and dropping to the ground inside the property, called Duarte Park. Other protesters followed, including the Rev. John Merz and the Rev. Michael Sniffen, Episcopal priests in the Diocese of Long Island (New York), Episcopal News Service (ENS) reports.

Police entered the area and arrested at least 50 people. Merz reportedly was arrested with Packard. Sniffen later confirmed that he had been arrested. The clergy were later released.

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) had been lobbying Trinity to use the property for a winter encampment, following the movement’s 15 November eviction from Zuccotti Park near the church. Trinity had refused, citing a lack of facilities at the site and its lease agreement allowing the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council to use it for periodic art installations. Packard had been trying to mediate an agreement between OWS members and Trinity.

“Trinity Wall Street would not meet with Occupy Wall Street. They refused,” said Packard’s wife, Brook, in a telephone interview on 17 December. “When Trinity closed its ears and refused to negotiate, the path of civil disobedience was clear.”

Sniffen told ENS he entered the park with Packard and other Episcopal and interfaith clergy. Over the phone, the sounds of people singing “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming” could be heard in the background.

“As a matter of conscience and discernment, I felt that I had to enter … in solidarity with these people who I’ve been supporting from the beginning and who are taking an enormous risk to force a conversation to happen about social and economic justice,” he said.

Inspired by the Arab Spring demonstrations that sparked political change in the Middle East, the Occupy movement protesting greed and economic inequality has spread to more than 2,500 locations across the U.S. and the world. Officials in many cities have dismantled encampments, including New York’s original site at Zuccotti Park.

Members of an OWS working group that Brook Packard attended discussed how, in seeking to use Trinity’s property, “they didn’t want to make it against religion or people of faith” and wanted to make it clear that “the end goal was not to occupy this area,” she said. “The end result was to get a home, so that from there they could occupy foreclosed homes for homeless people instead of banks” and take other actions.

Faith leaders have differed on whether Trinity, which has allowed use of other facilities for OWS meeting space and respite, should permit an encampment on Duarte Square and whether protesters should “occupy” the space without permission.

The Rev. Michael Ellick of Manhattan’s Judson Memorial Church, one of the leaders in an interfaith group supporting OWS, wrote on 16 December in an e-mail to supporters: “Occupy Faith NYC has always supported the OWS ask of Trinity, and will continue to do so, but there is no clear consensus on actions like civil disobedience. Without this consensus, we will not be endorsing such actions, and individual faith leaders who may choose to go this route will be doing so autonomously. That said, I encourage all of you to join us tomorrow for this event.”

Also on 16 December, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Episcopal Diocese of New York Bishop Mark Sisk each issued statements criticizing OWS attempts to occupy the Trinity property without permission.

“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,” Jefferts Schori wrote. “Other facilities of Trinity continue to be open to support the Occupy movement, for which I give great thanks. It is regrettable that Occupy members feel it necessary to provoke potential legal and police action by attempting to trespass on other parish property.”

Retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu praised OWS members as “a voice for the world,” but said he regretted the impasse between the protestors and Trinity, “an esteemed and valued old friend of mine,” and he discouraged law-breaking.

In a 17 December statement, Trinity’s rector, the Rev. James Cooper, said the church was “saddened that OWS protestors chose to ignore yesterday’s messages” from Jefferts Schori, Tutu and Sisk.

“OWS protestors call out for social and economic justice; Trinity has been supporting these goals for more than 300 years,” he wrote. “The protestors say they want to improve housing and economic development; Trinity is actively engaged in such efforts in the poorest neighborhoods in New York City and indeed around the world. We do not, however, believe that erecting a tent city at Duarte Square enhances their mission or ours. The vacant lot has no facilities to sustain a winter encampment. In good conscience and faith, we strongly believe to do so would be wrong, unsafe, unhealthy and potentially injurious. We will continue to provide places of refuge and the responsible use of our facilities in the Wall Street area.”


Ecumenical News International (ENI) was launched in 1994 as a global news service reporting on ecumenical developments and other news of the churches, and giving religious perspectives on news developments world-wide.

2 thoughts on “Episcopal Clergy Arrested At Occupy Wall Street Protest

  • December 20, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    You don’t even need to be religious to understand -and embrace- the idea that “Whatsoever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” But many in the 1%, in blind greed and endless schemes, have forgotten this, and have closed their eyes to what the word “society” should really mean. But because of Occupy Wall Street, we are finally talking less about CUTS and more about BLEEDING. Instead of demanding m-o-r-e budget cuts -to be borne by the middle class and poor- we are FINALLY focusing on the shameful bleeding that the poor and middle class has endured for all too long. Instead of talking about even m-o-r-e cuts in the taxes of millionaires….we are now talking about fairness and justice – about an economy and a political system that is increasingly run for the rich, and by the rich. Instead of talking about LESS government, we are talking about a government that WORKS FOR ALL OF US, not just a favored few. Thank you OWS, for reminding us that people -ordinary working people- really DO matter, and for helping open our eyes to what’s really going on in this country. In a city where there is precious little public space that we can call our own, this is much more than a plea for sanctuary: It’s a hard-fought carving out of a protected space amid the repression, an expression of conscience and affirmation… continually reminding us, goading, prodding, annoying, inspiring, illuminating and encouraging us..reminding us what of we’ve lost, of what we can do, and what we can be. They would pen us in, they would permit us to death, they would tell us to “ move on, move on, there’s nothing to see”…..don’t block the street, don’t trespass, don’t EXIST. You don’t belong, you don’t count, you don’t have a right to even be here…. A city where control-freaks would sweep us under the rug and out of the way…as they deny us, deny our lives, deny our very futures. But OWS responds, loudly, BOTH in word and in DEED: we BELONG, we STAND our ground, and we DO matter! This is OUR land, and we want it BACK! The word OCCUPY says it all! That’s why OWS has captured our imagination. That’s why this living breathing public space is important. Trinity Church should look deep into its collective soul, do the right thing, and help OWS. If Christ were physically among us today, as He was 2000 years ago, He would be among the FIRST to climb those fences, and occupy Trinity’s Duarte Square. Of this I am certain… 

  • December 21, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    unfortunately the wall street protesters do have clue about what is he protest about.
    read a lesson in free market

    from an independent financial advisor ;-
    -the basics of free market economy which one do not know
    – all different interments of investment and stock exchange are just like gambling joints or betting shops
    – when someone says he has lost there is always another who has won
    – money does not vanish into thin air, mostly it has just changed pockets, of same crooks.
    – same crooks also own the rating agencies like standard and poor etc.
    – these crooks on one hand show loses in one sector of economy, and at the same time are ready with the looted money to be lent at high interest rates to needing countries and banks
    – these crooks assume the name of international private banks and have unlimited supply of looted money earned from the gambling establishments i.e. called instruments of investment, this is their source to generate money

    lending agencies like ECB, Bank of England and the bigger thieves like Federal Reserve are owned and run by the same money and media Mafia which is now controlling all so called western democracies and their leaders

    people must learn to live with the crumbs thrown their way by these crooks to maintain a facade of free market, and forget about occupying wall street


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