Catholic Church in Norway fined over membership fraud
Last year it was reported in Newsweek that Bernt Ivar Eidsvig, the bishop of Oslo, above, had been charged with ‘gross economic fraud’. He and his diocese was accused of overstating their membership numbers, thereby claiming state funding to which it was not entitled.
This week, according to the Independent, the case culminated with the imposition of a one million kroner (£95,000) fine on the Church.
The Church was accused of looking for immigrants with names that would suggest they were of Catholic origin and adding them to the list of members without their knowledge.
If the Church refuses to pay the fine it will face trial.
The Church responded in a statement:
We’ve never done anything illegal or received too much money. We have always recognised that we have made mistakes and had an unfortunate practise in parts of our registration. This was cleaned up a long time ago.
In Norway the state finances religious groups in accordance with the number of members.
The church claimed from 2004 there was an increase in immigration from Catholic countries such as Poland and these members were not registered, leading to an increase in Church spending without a corresponding increase in state funding.
In addition to the fine, the Norwegian state is demanding the Church returns an overpayment of 40.6 million kroner (£3.8 million).
Lisa Wade, a spokesperson for the Roman Catholic diocese of Oslo, told Newsweek last year that bishop Eidsvig would not be resigning and had the full support of Rome.
He’s in constant dialogue with the Vatican but since we believe we have not done anything illegal and we have the support of the Vatican, he will not step down until anything changes in the case.
However, Wade admitted that improper methods were used to calculate the number of Catholics in Norway for up to four years. These include some church employees automatically registering people with Polish names found in the phonebook, a practice Wade says was promptly stopped when it was discovered in October 2014.
Wade says that the Church has struggled under the weight of an influx of Catholic immigrants who had come to Norway and practised their religion but failed to register with the Church.
In a video, bishop Eidsvig claimed that the number of Catholics in Oslo diocese had tripled to 120,000 between 2004 and 2012, and that 50 percent of the country’s Catholic population are Polish immigrants.
The country’s official statistics body put the number of Roman Catholics at 140,109 as of 1 January 2014.
Norwegian police raided the diocese of Oslo’s offices as part of the investigation in February, 2015.
Kristin Rusdal, the Oslo police spokesperson, told Newsweek the police hoped to have enough evidence to bring a prosecution by the end of the year and that the bishop and his financial officer could face a six-year prison sentence.
The Catholic Church in Norway has faced scandal before. In 2010, the Norwegian Church and the Vatican admitted that a former Norwegian bishop, Georg Mueller, had resigned after he was discovered to have abused an altar boy two decades earlier. The Vatican said church authorities found out about the abuse in January 2009 but did act upon it until it was reported in 2010 by Norwegian newspaper Adresseavisen.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn