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Opinion/Brännpunkt

Sunday January 18,2004

Who is responsible for the security of the Dean Sandahl?

At the disestablishment of the Swedish Church in year 2000, the clergy of the church changed employer. From being employed by the dioceses they now became employed by the local congregations. But it was pointed out over and over again that the Episcopal structure of the church should remain. Among other things this is expressed by the fact that it is the bishops of the church who ordain the priests and provide supervision. It was only the conditions of employment as such that was going to be moved from the regional to the local level.

A number of high profile cases have brought to attention the issue of the responsibility of the diocese, now most recently the case of Dag Sandahl, a professor and former rural dean. The Kalmar Church Community Council decided to fire him from his tenured position as assistant priest (komminister) in Kalmar.

This also brings up the question of whether the transfer of the clergy to the local congregations has changed the church itself in a fundamental way. In the present situation a priest who is served notice of dismissal from his local employment is at the mercy of the labor market, whatever the reason for his dismissal. But it was the diocese   that accepted and ordained the priest through its bishop.

A priest is a priest of the whole church, and at the ordination it is emphasized that the commission and the responsibility are life long. This is evident from the fact that the priest, applying for a new position, is not re-ordained but carries his priestly status and capacity with him from position to position. This is true when the employment transfers into retirement or is terminated for any other reason.

When the conditions of employment were changed for the clergy, a new clause was incorporated into the church law, making it impossible for the local congregation to fire a priest without examination of the decision by the Diocesan Chapter.

This paragraph was intended to guarantee that priests were not being fired because of occasional local opinions or dissatisfaction with the priest’s theological profile and image. There have been several noticeable cases where there are reasons to believe that the dissatisfaction with a priest’s theological profile has been clothed into words as difficulties to cooperate, refusal to work and the like.

In most cases of an inflamed workplace conflict, it is impossible to distinguish theological causes from those related to the workplace environment.

If priests who are seen as inconvenient are dismissed, bought out or excluded from employment in the parishes of the Swedish church, the reasons - the real and underlying reasons, even those dealing with theological convictions – need to be made clear.

It is absurd that priests  who are fully competent to serve as priests in the church and certified to adhere to the faith, confession and doctrine of the Swedish church after a renewed examination by the Diocesan Chapter, unilaterally can be fired by the local parish employers.

The priest is formally still competent, but he has been robbed of his trustworthiness by a decision of a local employer. In such a situation neither the diocese nor the church as a whole can escape their responsibility.

With the local employment we risk ending up in a situation where myths and the truth are allowed to live side by side. The church has abandoned its clergy by permitting the role of the diocese to be reduced to an examination of the labor laws concerning the priest’s possible continued employment in a parish.

It should be a matter of course that the dioceses continue to utilize the experience and knowledge of these priests. Who takes the responsibility for the personal tragedies and the impoverishment of the Swedish church that the present system is open for?

Björn Fyrlund   Yngve Kalin

Footnote: Dag Sandahl has been employed in Kalmar since 1971 and is on sick leave since the summer of 2000 after a theological conflict with first of all the bishop of the diocese.
In December of 2003 the Kalmar Church Community Council decided to request a so called examination of its competence by the Diocesan Chapter in Växjö to dismiss Dag Sandahl for “personal reasons.
The Diocesan Chapter has recently declared it had no objection to the dismissal.
Sandahl is now served notice of termination

 

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