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The Case of Björn Fyrlund

On April 29, 2006 the following article was published in the local newspaper on the Swedish West coast, Hallands Nyheter (Halland News). Dag Sandahl and I responded to the news that kyrkoherde Björn Fyrlund in Vessige had been given notice of termination by the politically elected church council of his parish. This is another example of the gradual political take over of the Swedish church.

Hallands Nyheter

Yngve Kalin & Dag Sandahl:

Should politicians be able to get rid of inconvenient priests?

At the disestablishment of the Swedish church in year 2000 the priests of the church changed employers. From being employed by the dioceses, they became employed by the local parishes.

Time and time again it was pointed out that this was only a change in procedure and a practical solution, as the salaries in the past already were paid by the parishes. Nothing substantially was changed, it was said.

Still the final responsibility for the priests should rest on the Diocese through the supervision by the Bishop and the Diocesan Chapter. The Bishop and the Chapter were to continue ordaining priests, not the individual parish or congregation. The parish is the place of service for the priest. The church supplies the priest and guarantees that the priest manages his office according to the faith, confession and teaching of the church. A priest is not subordinate to the church council but is independent and is responsible for his priestly work, reporting to the Bishop and the Chapter.

How did it turn out in reality? Church Councils all over the country and now latest in Vessige parish have found a way to get rid of undesirable priests with the help of the new law. Kyrkoherde Björn Fyrlund in Vessige is not the first kyrkoherde (pastor with tenure), who has fallen in disgrace among local church politicians and been given notice of termination. Nowadays no priest is safe!

There is a new kind of church politicians, who view themselves as the bosses of the priests. A priest who does not cooperate on these conditions is bound to have problems. And these difficulties to cooperate are then used as arguments for getting rid of the priest! The priest is left with his tarnished reputation and has to find a new job. The rumor leaps ahead of him: This is a priest with difficulties to cooperate! Still qualified to be a priest but with small chance of being hired, as it is the church politicians, who nowadays hire the priests.

When the conditions for employment of the priests were changed, it is true that a clause was included making it impossible for the local congregation to fire a priest without a review by the Diocesan Chapter. This paragraph was meant to make sure that no priest was being fired because of local, temporary opinions or dissatisfaction with the theological profile or image of the priest. This clause has proven to be of no use. When the Chapter enters the picture it is often too late. Often there is strong indication that the dissatisfaction with the priest's theological profile is

When the conflicts in the work place are burning, it is practically impossible to discern what is theology and what is related to the work environment and caused by vague organization and unclear distribution of responsibility. If priests who may be viewed as inconvenient are to be fired, bought out or excluded from employment in parishes of the Swedish church, then the reasons behind have to be made clear, even those involving theological conviction! Myth and truth about the real reasons behind a conflict should not be allowed to live side by side. In the case in point it should be remembered that the priest had been in the parish for 18 years, and the complaining chairman of the church council for 2 years. You may wonder when the cooperation started to squeak.

It is absurd that priests who are fully competent to serve as priests in the church and who in repeated reviews by the Diocesan Chapter have been declared in agreement with the faith, confession and doctrine of the Swedish church, unilaterally may be terminated by the local employer, represented by a temporary political majority - that is bad enough – or represented – even worse – by a group of spiteful people, who want to get rid of the priest.

On the paper, the priest is still qualified but has been terminated by the decision of a local employer, robbed of his credibility and violated both as a person and as a professional. These are actions that can ruthlessly hit a whole priest family. These are now the terms for us priests: Do not challenge, conform and do what is politically correct – otherwise you may be fired.

Who takes the responsibility for what the present system can lead to? Who takes the responsibility for not only the personal tragedies but for the impoverishment of the Swedish church as well? Impoverishment? Yes, we talk here about a learned priest who has received confidence from many of his colleagues on many occasions. We think this is relevant information for those who want to think on their own.

(End of quotation from Hallands Nyheter)

13 months later, on June 1, 2006, the following headline could be read in the same newspaper, Hallands Nyheter.


Björn Fyrlund is bought out by the Vessige parish

The paper informs the reader that kyrkoherde Björn Fyrlund accepts leaving Vessige parish with 36 months salary in severance pay. On Monday he will finish his service of 19 years and so a more than year long fight with the church council is over.

"We have a different view of the leadership in a parish and the role of the priest", Björn Fyrlund says.

In principle he has accepted the agreement that the Federation of Parishes and he himself via his Trade Union has negotiated. According to a decision made by Vessige church council on May 11, 2006 and communicated to the Federation of Parishes, Fyrlund is offered 36 months pay plus moving expenses of up to 50,000 Kr (around $6,500).

The priest thinks that the preliminary agreement shows that he is correct concerning the position of the priest. Fyrlund states that the church council chose to buy him out, instead of pursuing an uncertain legal process through the courts and questions the competence of the church council. He says that everything went very fast after the decision on May 11.

"But we had passed the point of no return," he adds. What irritates him most, is how the position of the priest has been changed after the separation between stat and church in 2000. Among other things it has lead to a transfer of employer responsibility to the local parish. "We are viewed only as powerless workers in the parish."

"I cannot make a statement as negotiations are in progress" says the chairman of the church council Ulla Rickardsson (The Center Party). She adamantly denies that Fyrlund’s departure would have anything to do with theological issues. Fyrlund is known to oppose both women as priests and blessing of homosexual partnerships.

"Major difficulties to cooperate is the reason", says Ulla Rickardsson.

At the latest on Dec. 1 this year the priest and his family have to leave the vicarage in Vessige, but it is doubtful that the fight over women priests and homosexual church blessings will end anyway.

The critical point in this particular case was obviously reached last fall in connection with the Thanksgiving Sunday celebration. That day Vessige church usually is decorated with fruits from the harvest by women belonging to The Center Party (agrarians). But just this Thanksgiving day the undisputed leader of the opposition against women priests, Bishop Emeritus Bertil Gärtner from Gothenburg, was invited by Fyrlund to celebrate the mass. The chairman of the church council, Ulla Rickardsson, was not in church that day and viewed Gärtner's participation as a provocation, not only against her and her political sympathizers, but against women in general.

(End of quotation from Hallands Nyheter).

So much for the denial that theological issues were involved in this case.

Translation: Birgitta Peterson

To the Web Page of Yngve Kalin