William J. Tighe:    Associate Professor of History, Muhlenberg College, PA

Swedish strife

The disestablishment of the state church offers little relief to the orthodox dissidents within it

An abridged version was published in Touchstone in March 2003


Although the Church of Sweden was disestablished asof January 1, 2000, the process by which it came about appears to have consolidated the hold of the “liberal establishment” upon it, and offered little hope of better treatment to the marginalized “traditionalists” within it, barring the collapse of the church structure itself, which some of them foresee in the next decade or two.

Of the present-day Swedish population of just over 8,850,000 (of whom 7.6 million are nominal members of the Church of Sweden), only about 260,000 (just under 3%) attend any church regularly. The latest statistics, from 1999, reveal that almost exactly half of these (129,732 to be precise) attend the Church of Sweden, while the rest go to Free Churches of various kinds, to the Catholic Church or to Orthodox Churches. Those who go to the Church of Sweden weekly --assuming that these 130,000 attend weekly, which is probably an overly optimistic assessment —- amount to little more than 1.7% of the church’s nominal membership, and surveys have shown that about 50,000 of these churchgoers, or ca. 39% of their total, are committed “conservative Church of Sweden Christians” of one sort or another (Lutheran confessionalists; Lutheran pietists; or high-church “evangelical catholics”), who regard the retired Bishop of Gothenburg, Bertil Gaertner, the last “orthodox” bishop in the Church of Sweden, as “their bishop”. The bureaucratic apparatus of the church is firmly under liberal control, however, even after disestablishment, and the thirteen bishops run the gamut from liberal to radical, while Karl-Gustav Hammar, the Archbishop of Uppsala since February 1997, has been described as a “radical Postmodernist”.

For over forty years the ordination of women has been a continuing source of strife in the Swedish Church, with opposition to it among the clergy holding steady at about a quarter of all serving clergy and, until recently, claiming an increasing number of male ordinands; as of 1999, ordained women comprise nearly 30% of the active clergy (1,175 out of 3,956), or 24% of all clergy (1,306 out of 5,442). Now, however, ordination had been effectively barred to all opponents by the terms of the disestablishment, and with the recent advent of women bishops and a concurrent drive to secure the acceptance of “same-sex partnerships” and their “blessing” by the church, tensions have increased further. Underground congregations, or koinonias, are in the process of formation within, and yet in defiance of, the Church of Sweden, while the “orthodox opposition” vacillates between revolt and departure.


Scandinavia in the Middle Ages consisted of three kingdoms, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, all of which were converted from paganism to western Latin Catholic Christianity in the decades before and after the year 1000. What is today Finland was largely conquered by Sweden beginning around 1150 and Iceland, a Viking republic which had been settled largely from Norway beginning in 876 and which had peacefully converted to Christianity in 1000, accepted Norwegian overlordship around 1250. (Norway was separated from Denmark in 1814 and united loosely with Sweden; it became an independent monarchy in 1905. Sweden was forced to cede Finland to Russia in 1809; Finland became an independent republic in 1918. Iceland became a republic independent of Denmark in 1944.) All three kingdoms were loosely united into one monarchy in 1397 with each constituent part retaining its own institutions, but this union effectively dissolved in the 1520s after the brutal behavior of the Danish king Christian II after his conquest of Sweden in 1520 led to a Swedish revolt which raised the Swedish nobleman Gustav Vasa (1496-1560) to the position of king of Sweden and subsequently to Christian’s overthrow in Denmark in 1523 by his uncle Frederick, who became king of Denmark and Norway. When Frederick died in 1533 the attempt of the Catholic portion of the nobility and the higher clergy to prevent the succession of his strongly Lutheran son Christian led to a three-year civil war which ended with the triumph of Christian III and of Lutheranism alike. The triumph of Lutheranism in Denmark in 1536 was followed by its imposition upon Norway and Iceland over the next two decades, and although it took decades for it to strike any substantial roots in these latter realms, its “official” triumph was swift and complete, and the Lutheran Churches in them became effectively an arm of the state.

In Sweden the process was much slower. Although Gustav Vasa had initially made opposition to “Lutheran heresy” a part of his popular appeal, he soon showed strong anticlerical tendencies and a desire to strip the Swedish church of its wealth and autonomy. After 1527 communication with the papacy ceased and bishops were chosen and consecrated without reference to Rome (until 1540, that is; after that date the king appointed no more bishops in Sweden and seemed to be aiming at letting the episcopate die out. It was only his allowing two bishops to be appointed in Finland in 1554 that allowed any sort of succession to be continued in 1575). King Gustav never displayed any interest in theology, although by the end of his life he had learned to brand as “papistic” any displays of clerical initiative or resistance to his wishes. Under the cautious leadership of the more-or—less Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala, Laurentius Petri (born 1499; archbishop 1531-1573) Lutheran beliefs and liturgical forms slowly made their way into the Swedish church, although no formal Lutheran confession of faith was adopted until 1593. Some of Gustav Vasa’s immediate successors were partial to Catholicism, others to Calvinism. The end result of it all was a Lutheran State Church under the authority of the Swedish Crown, but with a good deal more institutional identity than the churches of the neighboring kingdoms.

The apostolic succession of bishops had been deliberately broken in the Danish Reformation and in Norway and Iceland, but the Swedish Church claims to have retained it, albeit by a hair’s breadth -- a claim recognized by the Church of England in 1920, but denied by Orthodoxy and Rome alike -- without, however, any assertion (in fact, with an explicit denial) that such a succession of bishops is in any sense necessary to the being of a church. Bishops have been viewed in all the Scandinavian Lutheran churches as members of the one ordained order of “pastors” exercising an office of supervision within the church, not as a separate “order” of ordained ministry -- a view to which the disappearance of the diaconate as an ordained ministry in the course of the Swedish Reformation also contributed.

Until the beginning of this year, before the Swedish disestablishment, all of the Scandinavian states had established Lutheran churches, and all except Sweden still have them. The nature of the establishment varied from country to country, ranging from Denmark, where the “Danish Folkchurch” is still in many respects an arm of the civil service, with no general synod or other deliberative body than the Danish Parliament, to Finland, where the two established churches, the dominant Lutheran Church and the smaller Orthodox Church enjoy a large measure of autonomy and self-government.

Until about 1960 Sweden might have been reckoned as closer by far to the Finnish end of this spectrum than to the Danish end. Sweden, also, in the middle decades of the Twentieth Century, was the scene of a remarkable theological florescence in the academic and pastoral realms. Names associated with it include, in the field of Biblical exegesis, Anton Friedrichsen, Birger Gerhardsson and Harald Riesenfeld and, in that of dogmatic theology, Gustav Aulen and Anders Nygren —- not to mention the work in liturgics of Yngve Brilioth, subsequently Archbishop of Uppsala (1950-1959). These all identified themselves with the Lutheran tradition of the Swedish Church (although Riesenfeld, who ceased to function as a priest after the ordination of women began, in later life became a Catholic), and often consciously stood in opposition to the more “radical” theological and exegetical trends emanating from German academic theologians such as Bultmann and Kasemann. There was, at the same time, a degree of influence emanating from high-church or moderately Anglo-Catholic English sources upon the liturgical and sacramental practice of the Swedish Church. On the other hand, beginning early in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century and gathering speed for nearly fifty years Sweden experienced a catastrophic decline in church attendance and religious practice that was to end with regular churchgoers numbering rather less than 10% of the population. A veneer of selectively-held Christian attitudes and “values” persisted among sections of the social elite into the 1950s or early 60s, and for a time various evangelical/revivalistic denominations, home-grown or imported from America, drew support from the more pietistic elements of the State Church; these, too, have by the present day mostly gone liberal.

But by the late 1940s it began to appear as though the situation had stabilized, and it was thus that leading Swedish churchmen of the period anticipated this consolidation leading to a recovery of ground. There is some evidence (such as the furious reaction in the press and at large to the publication in 1950 by the Church of Sweden’s bishops of a pastoral letter condemning premarital sex, extramarital cohabitation, and homosexuality, and rejecting, save in exceptional circumstances, abortion, divorce and the use of contraception) that this view may have been unduly optimistic, but it was not until the Swedish Government thrust the women’s ordination issue upon the church in 1957 that the predicament of the Church of Sweden as the Established Church of a post-Christian society became painfully evident.

The Women’s Ordination Debate -- and its Aftermath

In 1945 the Swedish Parliament passed an “Equal Rights Law” guaranteeing men and women equal employment rights, and in 1946 requested a study of the question of the ordination of women, since the State Church clergy were reckoned as part of the Swedish civil service to whom the law applied, but it would require action by the Church Assembly, which had the legal right to accept or to veto civil legislation applying to the church, to effect the change. The issue had already arisen decades earlier, but a motion to approve the ordination of women had been tabled in 1923 after a long debate in the Church Assembly. A Royal Commission was appointed; in 1950 it produced a majority report recommending their ordination and a minority report opposing it. Shortly after its appearance, the majority’s recommendations were strongly attacked in a statement signed by all the theology professors save one at the two Swedish universities, Lund and Uppsala.

After a vigorous, but not vitriolic, debate, the Swedish Government made a formal proposal to the 1957 Church Assembly meeting that the exception made in 1925 for the Church of Sweden to a law allowing women to hold all civil service offices on an equal basis with men be repealed; to accept this proposal (which would subsequently have to be passed by the Swedish Parliament) would effectively open ordination to women. At that time (until a major reorganization of its structure and composition in 1982) the Church Assembly, which normally met once every five years, consisted of 100 voting members: the 13 Swedish bishops, who were members by virtue of their office, 30 clergy elected by the clergy on a diocesan basis and 57 elected layfolk. The members voted as a single body, and not separately by “orders” (as in the Church of England), and a bare majority sufficed to carry a proposal. At the October 1957 Church Assembly meeting the proposal was defeated by a vote of 62 against to 36 for: all 13 bishops voted against, all but one of the clergy delegates and 21 of the 57 lay delegates. This came as an astonishing shock to public opinion: all the political parties in Sweden had come out in favor of the proposal, and the lay (but not clergy) delegates to the Church Assembly were mostly elected under the same political party “labels” as were the members of the Swedish Parliament, and a tremendous uproar ensued in the press and the political world in general. In retrospect, it appears that the bishops and clergy regarded the proposal as a secular intrusion into the internal life of the church, while Swedish public opinion in general, thinking that the proposal was so obviously in accord with “modern times” and “Swedish ideals”, had found it impossible to imagine that it would have been rejected.

In December 1957 the Minister for Ecclesiastical Affairs (a Cabinet Minister of the Swedish Government) called for new elections for a special session of the Church Assembly to meet in September 1958 to reconsider the proposal; meanwhile, the Swedish Parliament passed the proposed act, and it rested with the Church Assembly to accept or to veto it. The elections were fought vigorously, with something of a crusading attitude on the part of the proponents of the measure, and the governing Social Democratic Party clearly intimated that in the case of a refusal to endorse the proposal the Church of Sweden would be disestablished and most of its assets confiscated by the state -— or at the very least the State Church would lose its veto over church-related legislation and come totally under government control, as was (and is) the case in Denmark. When the vote came, this time it passed by a vote of 69 in favor to 29 opposed. Six of the 13 bishops who had voted against a year earlier now voted in favor, five voted against and one abstained. The Archbishop of Uppsala, Brilioth, was gravely ill; in his absence the Dean of Uppsala, Olof Herrlin, cast a proxy vote against on the archbishop’s behalf (the archbishop himself had opined that the the vote should take place only after wide ecumenical consultations). The Drafting Committee of the 1958 Church Assembly included in the act authorizing the ordination of women a “conscience clause” designed to guarantee that no bishop could be forced to ordain women, nor could a candidate be denied ordination because of his opposition to the ordination of women; and the Minister for Ecclesiastical Affairs, Ragnar Edenmann, made a formal declaration on behalf of the government that the “conscience clause” would have legal force. Then there was a pause of over a year, in the course of which opposition began to coalesce into an organized group and a new archbishop, Gunnar Hultgren, one of the bishops who had voted in favor of the ordination of women after having opposed it a year earlier, was appointed. Finally, on Palm Sunday 1960 the archbishop and two other bishops each ordained a woman.

Early in 1960 the “opposition” prepared a document popularly called The 17 Points. This was a recommended “code of practice” for clergy and laity of the Church of Sweden opposed to the ordination of women. It was formulated largely by Bo Giertz (1906-1998), from 1949 to 1970 Bishop of Gothenburg in southwestern Sweden -- a region of a relatively high level of religious practice compared with the rest of Sweden and within the Swedish Church a stronghold of strongly confessionalist Lutheranism -- and one of the five bishops who had stood firm in 1958. It was withheld from publication until the first ordinations of women, and its release at the same time as those first ordinations caused an uproar in the press. The following excerpt from the introduction and from points 1, 2, 9 (the first nine were for clergy, the remaining eight for the laity) 10, 11, and 12 demonstrate their nature:

Through its decision to open the priesthood to women the Church Assembly has introduced into the Church those not rightly called to the office and not authorized to practice it on Christ’s behalf...

1.       Priests aware that the ordination of women goes against the command of the Lord obviously cannot assist at such an ordination and they ought to avoid being present. The last part of this advice is valid also for the laity.

2.       Since a woman does not administer the office at the command of Christ, a priest cannot exercise his priestly service together with her, nor can he cooperate at the same service, nor go before the altar together with her, nor celebrate communion or any other church services, ordination, etc.

9.        ….. a member of a Diocesan Council must oppose a woman’s being accepted for examination and ordination. Further, he must refuse to examine her. He cannot be party to the employment of an ordained woman, or in any other way concede that she be treated as a person properly called to the priestly office.

10.       The laity ought to abstain from attending a service performed by a woman priest.

11.       No children should be sent to a confirmation class conducted by a woman priest.

12.       She ought not to be asked for counseling or for sickbed communion. ….

Down to 1978, when there were roughly 275 women priests out of a total of 3,000, most bishops were willing to conduct, if with some reluctance, separate ordination services for male ordinands opposed to the ordination of women and, thus, unwilling to be ordained alongside women. On the other hand, from the beginning the government made clear its unwillingness to appoint as bishops clergymen opposed to the ordination of women if that were possible. Bishops were selected by an electoral body consisting of most of the clergy of the diocese concerned, plus one layperson from each parish. The names of the three candidates receiving the largest number of votes were submitted to the government, which then was free to appoint any one of them. The five bishops who had voted against the ordination of women in 1958 retired or died between 1958 and 1971. Only two bishops opposed to the ordination of women were appointed in these years, Olof Herrlin to Visby in 1961 and Bertil Gaertner as Bo Giertz’s successor in Gothenburg in 1970, cases in which all three men on the short list were opposed. Herrlin stuck to his principles during his twenty-year episcopate, but otherwise made no great mark on the ecclesiastical scene, but Bertil Gaertner became in his way the inspiration of the “orthodox opposition” in the Church of Sweden during and after his years as bishop.

The End of the “Conscience Clause” and a New Church Assembly

The 1970s, although it ended in Sweden with the Social Democrats losing power for the first time since 1932, was a decade of institutional change in Sweden. A new constitution stripped the monarchy of its last remaining political powers, and altered the law of succession so as make the crown descend to the oldest child rather than the oldest son of the reigning monarch. The Social Democrats had long been committed to the idea of disestablishing the State Church, but when they, as the governing party, put the idea in a formal way to the church in the middle of the decade, the Church Assembly of 1979 refused total disestablishment, but agreed to undertake major institutional changes in the church’s organization and government.

By 1978, also, the conscience clause was widely under attack as “discriminatory”, and a growing number of bishops were refusing to conduct separate ordination services for ordinands opposed to the ordination of women. In that year, the then Archbishop of Uppsala, Olof Sundby, set up a commission of six members, drawn from both constituencies, to reconsider the conscience clause. In December of that year the archbishop promulgated Rules for cooperation in the Church of Sweden between those who hold different opinions concerning the right of women to ordination. The document stated that the ordination of women was the norm in the church, but that “those who hold another opinion concerning a woman’s right to ordination than that which the church’s law proclaims shall also in the future be able to be ordained and to obtain a position as a priest in the Church of Sweden”. It went on to state, however, that the option of separate ordination services for those opposed would cease, and that those in that position might be able to seek ordination in a diocese in which there were no women ordinands, but that this was not to be considered a guarantee; further stipulating that clergy opposed to the ordination of women might abstain from doing liturgical service with woman priests, but had to cooperate in all other respects (for example, administrative or financial) with them. An oblique statement that “The person who accepts becoming a bishop must be willing to be a bishop for both male and female priests in the diocese” seemed implicitly to rule out any candidacy for the episcopate of men opposed to the ordination of women, while another allowed woman candidates from dioceses whose bishops would not ordain women to be ordained in another diocese for service in the diocese of the bishop who was unwilling to ordain her.

These guidelines were accepted by the 1979 Church Assembly, but when they were sent on to the Parliament for legal enactment the government refused to accept them, choosing instead to appoint a committee to investigate the status of women priests in the State Church and to make recommendations. When the committee reported in 1981 it recommended the abolition of the 1958 law allowing the ordination of women, and with it the conscience clause which was a part of it. This would have the effect of making the general “Equal Rights Law” of 1945 (itself incorporated into the 1975 Swedish Constitution) binding upon the Church of Sweden, as its clergy were considered part of the civil service. It would not of itself prohibit the ordination of opponents, but it would remove all legal safeguards ensuring their access to ordination, and effectively leave it up to the bishops or the Church Assembly to set policy in this area. After a long debate, on May 11, 1982, the Church Assembly accepted the government’s proposal. While the opposition was in no sense proscribed by this act, Archbishop Sundby’s declaration that “all priests should cooperate with each other in all priestly functions” was hardly reassuring to its members.

It was in 1982, also, that the old hundred-member Church Assembly was replaced with a 251-member one, of which the members were chosen by indirect elections (i.e., electors were elected on a parochial level, and these electors, in turn, elected delegates to the Church Assembly on ballot-lists on which most of the political parties were represented). No longer did the bishops have ex officio membership: all 13 bishops were required by law to be present at the Church Assembly, and were allowed to speak to make recommendations, but technically only those bishops who were elected members had “voice and vote”. (Two of them were elected in 1982, but in later elections all the bishops refused to run for election.) After 1982, as before, most lay members of the Church Assembly continued to be elected on a party-political basis, but from 1982 onward this became true of clergy as well.

Bertil E. Gaertner, Bishop of Gothenburg, 1970-1991

From 1982 onward, by fits and starts, pressure on the “orthodox opposition” steadily increased. No longer were there separate ordination services for opponents of the ordination of women. Olof Herrlin, Bishop of Visby, an opponent, retired in 1982 and was replaced by a proponent; this left Bertil Gaertner of Gothenburg the only opponent among the bishops. Gothenburg was a diocese with a history of strong confessionalist Lutheranism: Bo Giertz had been a strong representative of that tradition. Gaertner, an academic New Testament scholar trained at Uppsala, came more from the “high-church movement” in the Swedish Church, with its stress on the importance of liturgy and sacraments, but as a winsome personality and a figure of broad, but orthodox, sympathies, he attracted support from “traditionalists” of all sort in his diocese and in the State Church in general. From 1965 to 1969 he had been Professor of the New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, returning to Sweden in the latter year to become Dean of Gothenburg.

When Bo Giertz retired in 1970-  -- Swedish clergy may retire at age 65 and must retire at age 67 --  Gaertner’ s name was third on the list of three candidates. First was Carl ­Henrik Martling, subsequently Chaplain-in-Chief to the King of Sweden, and second came the prominent “orthodox opposition” figure Per-Olof Sjogren (one of whose book, The Jesus Prayer, has been translated into English). All three were opponents of the ordination of women, so the government had to choose one of them. They chose Gaertner, probably supposing that as the least-known, an academic who had lived in America, his opposition would be the weakest as well; but in choosing him they had also chosen the youngest of the three: he was only 45 years old at the time, and so could remain as bishop until 1991. Gaertner, however, stood firm; nor would the Gothenburg diocesan Chapter administer the requisite ordination examination to female candidates. Female ordination candidates had therefore to go to the neighboring diocese of Skara to be ordained and (since Swedish clergy had to spend five years in their diocese of ordination -- since reduced to one year -- before they can go elsewhere) had to wait for some time to take up pastoral positions in the Gothenburg diocese.

In response, a law popularly called the “Lex Gaertner” was passed in 1985, which required the diocesan Chapter of a diocese of which the bishop would not ordain women to allow her to be examined elsewhere, and then to invite the bishop of another diocese to come to ordain her in the cathedral of their own diocese. As time passed, Gaertner became a “larger than life” figure: the symbolic figure of the “orthodox opposition”, both in respect of his spiritual leadership, which transcended the boundaries of his diocese, and as a figure that attracted the odium of the “liberal establishment”, among the bishops of the State Church and of Sweden in general. His “common touch” , and an unexpected ability to acquit himself well in the media, made him a well-known and popular figure in other Swedish circles, some of them far removed from the church.

Gaertner played a leading role in the formation in 1983 --- in reaction to the abrogation of the “conscience clause” a year earlier --- of “The Free Synod of the Church of Sweden”, an “orthodox opposition” group that, while remaining within the Church of Sweden, set about erecting a “shadow church” within the church, to serve as an “orthodox alternative” within it and to provide mutual support for their increasingly marginalized constituency. Yet both as a diocesan bishop and in retirement he has been most reluctant to envisage or to involve himself in a split from or within the State Church, although in the earlier years of his episcopate he was to some extent involved in fruitless approaches to Rome and to Constantinople seeking concrete discussions of the plight of the specifically “high-church” orthodox constituency in the Swedish Church and of the possibility for some sort of arrangement which would allow for a degree of sacramental intercommunion without a formal break from their church; and there are well-founded reports, of their nature without firm confirmation, of at least one approach to a former Roman Catholic Bishop of Sweden to initiate discussions about a turning to Catholicism -- an approach received with a singular lack of interest by the bishop concerned. Still, the fact that there was one diocesan bishop identified with the “orthodox opposition” -- and a popular one at that --possibly acted as a restraint upon any attempt to deny ordination to these traditionalists.

But when Gaertner retired in 1991, one of the three top candidates was a liberal, Lars Eckerdal, a theology professor at Lund (he came second in the “short list” of three: first came Bengt Holmberg, also a professor, a “high-church” clergyman deeply involved in the Free Synod, and third Sven-Arne Svenungsson, a confessionalist Lutheran and currently head of the Kyrklig Samling, or Church Union, a general umbrella orgainzation linking the various strands within the “orthodox opposition”); and of course Eckerdal was appointed -- and within a short time had his diocese in an uproar over his authorizing clandestine blessings of same-sex “unions” by some of his clergy. In retirement (“retirement” of sorts, as apart from his activity as symbolic leader of the Free Synod and of the “orthodox opposition” in general he has continued to serve as the bishop overseeing the religious communities in the Church of Sweden) Gaertner has retained a preeminent influence within traditionalist circles, restraining tendencies to seek a split from the Church of Sweden and -- equally importantly insisting that the theologically rather divergent groups that comprise the “orthodox opposition” should work closely together and coordinate their efforts -— a strategy that works well defensively, but tends to frustrate bold initiatives.


The Debacle of 1993 and the Exclusion of Traditionalist Ordinands

In 1993 the Bishops’ Conference, the Central Board (the coordinating organization for church activities) and the Free Synod tried to work out a modus vivendi for those opposed to the ordination of women in the State Church. A document was drafted, formulating areas of agreement and disagreement between the two sides. When it was published, however, it was criticized by the supporters of women’s ordination for not having got the opposition to admit that ordained women were validly ordained and that Eucharists celebrated by them were valid sacraments -- evidently their intention was that if the opposition had conceded this point concessions might be made to their “psychological difficulties” with the ordination of women. But the opposition refused to concede the point, and so the discussions collapsed in mutual recriminations. The Bishops’ Conference then took the bull by the horns and decided that from henceforth no opponents of the ordination of women would be ordained in the Church of Sweden. One bishop, Jan-Arvid Hellstrom, Bishop of Vaxjo, a liberal, but a “liberal-minded” one, stated his continuing intention to ordain whatever candidates he pleased, regardless of their opinion on the women’s ordination issue -- other, less courageous, bishops had for some time been sending to Vaxjo for ordination candidates whom they did not dare themselves to ordain -- but he was killed in an automobile accident in January 1994, and after that point all the bishops fell into line. Various tests were devised to prove the soundness of priests or ordination candidates on the ordination issue.

Priests whose views were suspect often were required to administer the chalice at a Eucharist celebrated by a woman priest; ordination candidates were required to receive communion at a Eucharist celebrated by a woman priest and to bring a testimonial to the bishop recording it. In one instance related to me by the Rev’d Dr. Folke T. Olofsson of Uppsala University, a Pentecostalist minister seeking ordination in the Church of Sweden in the Gothenburg diocese, but uncertain about the ordination issue, was told by Bishop Eckerdal that if he would but once receive communion from a woman priest he could be ordained, and added that as there was a woman priest working in the same office he could simply call her in then and there to celebrate the Eucharist for them both. The proscription of opponents extends beyond a ban on their ordination, as it has become virtually impossible for already-ordained opponents of the ordination of women to leave their current pastorates or other ministerial positions and receive another one, unless they are willing to take precarious, junior or temporary positions.

A notable instance of the operation of this proscription occurred in 1999 and generated a good deal of public and media attention. The position of Dean of Stockholm Cathedral fell vacant, and among those who applied for the position were four opponents of the ordination of women: Goeran Beijer, Roland Kristensson, Rolf Pettersson and Dag Sandahl. Sandahl and Beijer have been prominent figures in the Free Synod: Sandahl a long-serving member of the Church Assembly and something of a “media personality”, Beijer dismissed in 1998 from his position as Pastor of St. Jakob Church in downtown Stockholm for his repudiation of the authority of the Bishop of Stockholm, Henrik Svenungsson, when the latter participated in the consecration of Sweden’s first woman bishop in October 1997 and for his subsequent refusal to recognize the “orders” of Svenungsson’ s successor as Bishop of Stockholm, Caroline Krook, Sweden’s second woman bishop. In accordance with the 1978 Rules for cooperation... between proponents and opponents of the ordination of women these candidates stated their willingness to cooperate with women clergy in all ways, save in liturgical ministrations. Perhaps these candidacies were intended from the start at least as much to evoke a response from the ecclesiastical and civil authorities as in the hope of actually obtaining the position; if so, it abundantly succeeded, as the Minister for Ecclesiastical Affairs, Marita Ulvskog (herself an atheist), intervened to effect the removal of these four candidates’ names from consideration. Some days after the controversy erupted, a Swedish television station featured a joint interview, or “moderated discussion”, between Minister Ulvskog and Dag Sandahl. What was most striking about the program was that Ulvskog not only attacked Sandahl’s opposition to the ordination of women, but refused to acknowledge his presence on the program and would address him only in the third person, as though he were not present --- a favorite device of totalitarian regimes is the invention of "non-persons", and it would appear that this technique is alive and well in contemporary Sweden. Less than a month later, the Bishop of Vaxjo removed Sandahl from his position as Rural Dean of Kalmar, claiming at first that he had rudely insulted those opposed to his views, but ultimately admitting that he found it impossible to work with a clergyman opposed to the ordination of women. The recent advent of women bishops with Christina Odenberg’s appointment to the Lund diocese in 1997 and Caroline Krook’s appointment to Stockholm in 1998 has, of course, increased the tension, as the “orthodox opposition” can recognize neither the spiritual authority of these women as bishops nor the validity of the orders of those ordained by them, both men and women alike.

Toward Disestablishment

By 1995 both the civil and ecclesiastical authorities had agreed that the disestablishment of the church was inevitable, and that it would take effect on January 1, 2000. This step would prove beneficial to other religious bodies, as the “church tax” that had previously been collected by the State for the Church of Sweden from all Swedes who were not members of another religious group or who had not formally renounced membership in the State Church would now be collected and distributed to the religious bodies with which individual taxpayers were affiliated, and these other bodies would obtain a legal status equivalent to that of the Church of Sweden. For the Swedish Church itself, however,  disestablishment came with self-forged fetters.

Although the Church Assembly was left to work out the details of disestablishment and to draft the statute which the Parliament was subsequently to ratify, it was clear on all sides that the disestablished church had to function in a “democratic” manner and that “dogmatists” had to be kept away from any possibility of obtaining authority within the church if the disestablishment were to proceed smoothly. This was the more pressing, as the issue of homosexual “unions” had arisen in a big way with the publication in 1994 of the report, “The Church and Homosexuality”, which in that year had been submitted to the Church Assembly and which basically took the “liberal line” that while these “unions” were not “marriages” in the Christian sense, the Church could and should find a way to “bless” them. The Assembly has never formally discussed the report, but the Bishops’ Conference acted on its own initiative to provide guidelines for pastors to deal with the situation. These effectively allowed such pastors as wished to do so to hold “private ceremonies” to bless the “unions” of same-sex couples who have already registered “partnership” in accordance with the provisions of Swedish law, and the bishops also devised a “liturgy” for that purpose which they subsequently distributed to the clergy. On all sides this action is viewed as merely an interim step toward the formal acceptance by the church of such “unions”.

In the course of the formulating of the details of the government of the coming disestablished church there were a number of bitter debates and all-night sessions in the Church Assembly. In one case, the bishops were initially successful in restoring their ex officio position as voting members of the Church Assembly, which they had lost in 1982, only to have the vote reversed during a late-night session; in another, the archbishop’s taking the initiative to recommend in the name of all the bishops the selection of members of the post-disestablishment Church Assembly by indirect elections rather than by direct elections (in direct elections all church members may vote in elections to parish councils, diocesan synods and the Church Assembly; in indirect elections -- the system used in, for example, the Church of England -- lay members enrolled in particular parish churches vote for parish councils, parish councils select the lay members of diocesan synods, and the diocesan synod members select the members of the General Synod) caused such outrage at the archbishop’s “presumption” as a non-member of the Church Assembly in trying to influence its deliberations that he was made to apologize and the Assembly voted to move to a system of direct elections.

Of most significance for the “orthodox opposition”, perhaps, were the means devised to exclude the opponents of the ordination of women from ordination, selection as bishops or promotion of any sort within the ranks of the clergy. Candidates for ordination in the disestablished church have to be approved for ordination by a diocesan selection committee, of which the diocesan bishop is a member. Before approval for ordination, candidates are obliged to sign a document in which each candidate indicates his (or her) affirmation of the validity of the ordinations of all clergy ordained within the Church of Sweden and signifies his (or her) willingness to cooperate with any other ordained person in all clerical functions -- which, of course, includes worship and sacraments. For the first time since the revival in the late 1970s of the “ordained diaconate”, those seeking ordination to it will also have to commit themselves to the ordination of women and to full cooperation with female pastors in their ministry. To deny the validity of some Swedish Church ordinations (i.e., those of women), or even to express doubts about them, suffices to bar a candidate from ordination; as the “official line” goes, such people must be excluded from ordination because their denials “exclude” those women who have been ordained. A senior clergyman (i.e., a Kyrkoherde, or Vicar) seeking to move to another equivalent pastoral position must likewise sign such a statement; an assistant pastor (a Komminister) need not do so. For the episcopate there is a more elaborate procedure. For starters, only a member of the clergy can be eligible for the episcopate. This may seem unobjectionable, but in 1942, when the Diocese of Stockholm was created, its first bishop was Manfred Bjorkvist, a laymen active in church affairs, who proved to be a great success and inspired choice; so the new rule looks like a case of “closed shop”. As to the mechanics of the choice, there will be an initial selection process designed to generate a minimum of five candidates. All five candidates -- or, if there are more than five, all those getting at least 5% of the votes or nomination recommendations —- will be sent a questionnaire to test their qualifications, such as their age; whether they have been baptized and ordained, and when; where and for how long they have served in the church; whether they would be prepared to work equally with all persons in the ordained ministry; and whether they would be willing to ordain women. Refusal to provide all the information requested, to reply in the affirmative to the last two questions; or to respond to the questionnaire at all will cause a candidate to be disqualified from further consideration for the episcopate. (If none of the five candidates get 50% of the votes, a run-off election will be held between the two highest vote-getters.)

The system has the advantage over the previous ad hoc sacramental tests that it is a bureaucratic process, and thus avoids the use of the Eucharist, arguably in a sacreligious fashion (much as the reception of the Church of England’s eucharist was used as a qualification for holding public office in England from 1673 to 1829) to separate the “sheep” from the “goats”, with all the questions about the propriety of the involvement of the bishops in administering such a test that arise inevitably from it. It has the additional advantage from the side of the liberal ascendancy in the church that it admits of no exceptions and is all but impossible to finesse: a liberal bishop willing to turn a blind eye to the orthodox views of an otherwise desirable ordinand would find it impossible to ordain him.

The Present Situation

Although the Church of Sweden was disestablished as of January 1, 2000, the present bureaucratic structure and its personnel continue in force for the time being. The first elections for a Church Assembly in the new circumstances will be held in September 2001, and so it will be some time yet before it becomes clear whether disestablishment will cause a falling-off in the proportion of nominal church members who vote in Church Assembly elections (only somewhat under 2% of church members attend church weekly, but 10% vote in church elections). A drastic decline in the numbers of those voting in these elections, or the refusal of a significant proportion of the clergy to participate in episcopal elections, could bring the whole structure into disrepute or ridicule. It might also happen that as the number of laypeople involved in the life of the church continues to fall, an increasing proportion of those that remain active will be of a conservative sort, with a growing possibility that they might demand a revision of the Church Order that excludes them from any real influence over the church’s life or from leadership positions within it. Although now effectively barred from ordination, the “orthodox opposition” within the church shows no real sign of quitting either the struggle or the Swedish Church. The “Porvoo Agreement” of 1997, which inaugurated a relationship of “communion” between the Anglican Churches of the British Isles (the Church of England, the Church of Ireland, the Episcopal Church of Scotland and the Church in the Province of Wales) and most of the Scandinavian and Baltic Lutheran Churches (the Church of Finland, the Church of Norway, the Church of Sweden, the Estonian Lutheran Church and the Lithuanian Lutheran Church; the Church of Denmark rejected the agreement and the Latvian Lutheran Church has deferred action on it ) has fostered international contacts between conservative Anglicans and the “orthodox opposition~~ in all the Scandinavian churches, and has offered the prospect, for those who would desire it, of close links with the assertive and well-entrenched “orthodox opposition”, mostly of an Anglo-Catholic complexion, within the Church of England.

When the Porvoo Agreement was being considered for final ratification by the Church of England’s General Synod in November 1996, one of the members of the Synod, the Rev’d Geoffrey Kirk, who abstained on the vote itself, spoke of the way in which opponents of women’s ordination had been excluded from ordination in Sweden and were on the way to exclusion in Norway, and expressed the hope that if the agreement did pass, not the least of its benefits would be to give hope to those suffering from oppression on this score in Sweden and elsewhere, and he besought the bishops of the Church of England to place before their Scandinavian partners the example of the Church of England’s “better way” in dealing with principled opposition to its action in ordaining women -- a speech which by all accounts was not received with enthusiasm by the Scandinavian Lutheran bishops present in the Visitors’ Gallery for the vote. “Porvoo” has in effect brought forth a “counter-PorvOo”, and the links forged thereby seem likely to be strongest between England and Sweden.

The single greatest difficulty under which the Swedish “orthodox opposition” labors is the divergent strands of theological thinking of which it is composed. These include strong confessionalist Lutherans of the “Old Church” school; Lutheran pietists; charismatic evangelicals; and high-church “evangelical catholics”. While there is a certain blend, or overlap, between these groups, the differences are equally clear. In July 1999 I spoke with a Gothenburg “old church” clergyman, Bengt Westholm: he discoursed at some length to me of a Lutheran missionary organization financially supported by many Swedish confessionalist Lutherans which aims to spread Christianity among the unchurched in Moldova and adjacent parts of Ukraine, and to do so had adapted the traditional Orthodox liturgy to the demands of Lutheran doctrine, but made it clear that, while opposed to the overall drift of the Swedish Church leadership, they had no particular intention of splitting with it. On the other hand, if such a split were to come, he was very clear that those of his opinion would prefer to link up with an American body like the strongly-confessionalist Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or perhaps -- although I thought there was less enthusiasm here the Lutheran Church/Missouri Synod, and had no interest whatsoever in cultivating links with conservative Anglican groups.

I spoke likewise in Gothenburg with another clergyman, Anders Paradis, who came from an evangelical-charismatic milieu: a priest since 1979, he had been supported in a ministry of healing, deliverance and exorcism by Bishop Gaertner, but had been viewed with suspicion by Bishop Eckerdal. His involvement with a demon-possessed young lady, deeply involved in the occult and with parents hostile to Christianity, led to her conversion, followed by confession and absolution. Her parents, however, took the story to the newspapers, which treated it as one in which a troubled young lady had fallen into the hands of a cult, the “cult” being the Gothenburg charismatic-evangelical circles of which Paradis was one of the most visible leaders; the young lady had been forcibly removed to her parents’ custody and had since then gone back to her former pursuits. Bishop Eckerdal had summoned Paradis into his presence and that of the diocesan Chapter and had accused him of bringing the church into disrepute by his activities, finally suspending him from the exercise of his priesthood and refusing to give him dismissal letters to another diocese. While opposed to the ordination of women, Paradis saw this issue as simply one among many signs of the ongoing apostasy of the Church of Sweden, and thought that those who upheld Christian orthodoxy should form a “free church” as quickly as reasonably possible, without seeking assistance from other churches, but without spurning such as might be offered.

Another strand within this mosaic is represented by the “Parish Faculty” in Gothenburg. This is a private foundation, founded in 1993 and supported by several confessionalist Lutheran groups, which grew out of the Gothenburg Christian Gymnasium (a private school of some 350 students), located in close physical propinquity to the University of Gothenburg, whose purpose is to offer a strongly Lutheran supplement to the “non-confessional” and “scientific” approach to religion and theology offered at the university, for the benefit of possible ordinands and others wishing to engage in Christian ministry within the ambit of the Swedish Church in areas such as teaching and evangelism. It is loosely analogous to Latimer House, Oxford, or Tyndale House, Cambridge --- private foundations for the promotion and defense of Anglican evangelicalism and its application to current theological and ecumenical “problems” --- but with a more “parochial” orientation. It has a fine theological library (and it subscribes to Touchstone!), and it attracts from 20 to 30 registered students each year. It devotes a good deal of effort to train and support the work of travelling preachers, or “catechists”, to preach in areas and parishes where orthodox clergy are unable to function or hold office in the church. I had the distinct impression from Torbjorn Johansson, one of its “faculty members” with whom I spoke at some length, that the “Parish Faculty” attempts to, if not avoid, then at least to play down the women’s ordination issue, and that there is no consensus among its faculty and students on the issue, nor, if it is an error (as most of them would appear to think, I was told), how serious an error it is. I learned also, here and elsewhere, of the singular lack of success that had beset attempts from the 1960s onward to found Lutheran Confessionalist bodies separate from the State Church: promising beginnings had been followed by splits and alienation over issues of doctrine and practice, and these initiatives had in consequence come to little or nothing.

It is the high-church, or “evangelical catholic”, group that has taken the widest perspective on the predicament of the Church of Sweden, and that has also been most actively opposed to the ongoing erosion of Christian orthodoxy within their church, as witness the activities of the “Free Synod of the Church of Sweden” since its foundation in 1983. Here, too, however, there is little agreement about future directions. Bishop Gaertner has strongly advocated what has been termed the “bowl strategy”, one which strives for the closest possible links between the various strands comprising the “orthodox opposition” in Sweden. However, a meeting of representatives of these various groups in Rome in October 1999 revealed a total lack of agreement about how to respond to the situation. In response to this, and in the belief that it had proved in practice to be a failure, Dag Sandahl has advocated the dissolution of the Free Synod and its replacement by a loose network around Bishop Gaertner to maintain contacts and, so far as possible, to coordinate activities, but at its March 2000 meeting the Free Synod voted to continue its existence for the time being.

My conversations in July 1999 with Goeran Beijer, Bo Brander, Folke Olofsson and Dag Sandahl, all of them involved in the activities of the Free Synod, showed little in the way of agreement about the future, save for a desire to continue their witness. Some of them looked to the emergence of a “Third Province” or “Free Province” within the Church of England, with which they might affiliate, and from which they might receive episcopal oversight, while others looked to the emerging “Nordic Catholic Church” in Norway under the aegis of the Polish National Catholic Church as the most promising development (two small congregations of Old Catholics were founded in the 1960s and 70s in Sweden, and others in Denmark, by disaffected former Lutheran members of their respective state churches, and were subsequently admitted to the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht; one of the Swedish congregations has already affiliated with the Nordic Catholic Church). Others look for the collapse, or “implosion”, of the Church of Sweden in the second decade of the new century, as the falling-away of members traditionally active in its organizational structures but without any deep Christian commitment leads to an inability to raise the funds, or even the personnel, to maintain its bloated bureaucracy, and hope that they will be in a position to salvage something from the wreckage. I preceived a degree of frustration with Bishop Gaertner’s hesitations about conducting ordinations of those denied it solely on account of their opposition to the ordination of women in defiance of the current church leadership, and alarm about his occasional hints that he may well --- if he has not done so already --- secretly consecrate one or more bishops to carry on his work after his departure. The small stream of converts both clerical and lay to Roman Catholicism, and an occasional trickle to Orthodoxy, show no sign of drying up.

As already noted, Bishop Gaertner has continued in “retirement” to serve as bishop to most of the religious communities within the Church of Sweden. These include the Ostanback Monastery of some four or five “evangelical Benedictines” near Uppsala (the other male religious, some two monks “in the Augustinian tradition” on the island of Gotland under the Bishop of Visby are not so openly opposed to the current order of things in their church), and three of the five female religious groups: the Order of the Holy Spirit (3 nuns), the Franciscan Sisters (5 nuns) and the Sisters of St. Mary Magdalen (2 nuns); the two groups of “Sisters of the Evangelical Road of St. Mary”, each one with 10 to 15 sisters, have been described to me as “wavering” in their stance. The bishop broached the idea of constituting all the priests affiliated with the Free Synod into a “Third Order” of clergy -- secular clergy with a common “rule of life” under his oversight, but the scheme has not been adopted.

In recent years “underground churches” -- the term used is koinonias --have begun to emerge within the Church of Sweden, and yet in defiance of its bishops and their authority. The extent of this “defiance” and of their public profile varies between the four organized koinonias. The most defiant is St. Stephen’s Koinonia in Stockholm, whose pastor, Goeran Beijer, was formerly Komminister of St. Jakob’s Church in Stockholm (a komminister is a pastor of a church which has been combined organizationally with other churches, but which retains its own congregational existence; the “head pastor” of the combination is the Vicar) until he was removed, as described above, in 1998. Bishop Gaertner accepted St. Stephen´s invitation to be its bishop, which puts him at odds for the first time in a formal manner with the other Swedish Church bishops. Gaertner has also accepted an invitation to become bishop of the Lund koinonia, which meets at the Laurentiistiftelsen, the St. Laurence Foundation, a student hostel for theology students at Lund University, but independent of the university, which has long been a center of “high-church” activity there. Its emergence as a koinonia was a consequence of the appointment to the see of Lund in 1997 as Sweden’s first female bishop of Christina Odenberg. Its warden, Bo Brander, told me that there are upwards of 40 fully-qualified candidates who have been refused ordination only on account of their stance on the ordination of women, and he hoped that Bishop Gaertner would soon agree to ordain such of them as one or another of these two koinonias would formally present to him for that purpose.

The other two koinonias have not yet publicly constituted themselves as such, nor have they besought Bertil Gaertner to serve as their bishop. The first of these is “the Catacombs” in Gothenburg, so called because originally it met in rooms in the basement of the City Hall until Bishop Eckerdal obtained the denial of its further use of the premises. Its growth has been slowed, I was informed, by the presence in Gothenburg of “four good orthodox churches” within the Swedish Church. The other is at the Ansgarstiftelsen, the St. Ansgar Foundation, in Uppsala -- institutionally the equivalent at Uppsala of the Laurentiistiftelsen at Lund, but “more cautious” in its stance and activities. As of mid-1999 the “church establishment” was turning a blind eye to these foundations and to those involved with them. Should Bishop Gaertner break with the Church Order governing the now-disestablished church and ordain clergy for them, it would undoubtedly precipitate disciplinary action against him, and perhaps against the koinonias themselves, whose upshot might, in turn, be a schism within the Church of Sweden or, in the absence of significant internal or external support, simply “a nine days’ wonder”. The choice is a hard one for orthodox Church of Sweden Christians: to stay arid fight in a church body which is structured so as to marginalize them and which, barring a miracle, is past saving, or to depart and go their separate ways, enduring the sadness of what John Henry, Cardinal Newman, referring to his own situation, termed “the parting of friends”.


Further Developments, 2001-2002

This essay was completed in August 2000. Since that time there has been a slow unraveling of the Church Order provided for the now-disestablished Church of Sweden, and a number of traditionalist members of the Church Assembly such as the Rev’d Dr. Dag Sandahl and the Rev’ds Anders Reinholdsson and Yngve Kalin (with all three of whom I have spoken) refused to seek or accept reelection to that body in September 2001, on the grounds that, as there is no longer any direct link between the parochial congregations and the selection of delegates to the Church Assembly, there is nothing left of any “synodical principle” of church government, which in turn means that the new Church Order has, as they contend, no legitimacy. The three matters which appear likely to be “flash points” for conflict in the immediate future are, first, the slow movement towards official church endorsement of the “blessing” of same-sex “partnerships”; second, defiance on the part of congregations and their Parish Councils of the church bureaucracy; and, thirdly, the possibility that the “orthodox opposition”, whether in the shape of those who follow Bishop Gaertner, or simply the koinonias acting on their own initiative, might succeed in effecting a formal break with the Church of Sweden.

As to the issue of homosexual practice, while there has as yet been no official change of the stance described above (no formal discussion of the issue, but episcopal “guidelines” for clergy willing to conduct “private ceremonies” for “blessing” such “partnerships”), the occurrence in December 2001 of a very public “private ceremony” in Uppsala Cathedral (the cathedra of Sweden’s archbishop, and so the equivalent of England’s Canterbury Cathedral or York Minster) in which the lesbian “partnership” of Archbishop Hammar’ s own sister, Anna-Karin Hammar, herself a priestess, with the divorced laywoman “feminist theologian” Ninna Edgardh Beckman was “celebrated” (the strongly liberal Hammar, archbishop since 1997, was present, but played no role in the service) has once again drawn media attention to the question and fueled demands (demands with which a number of the bishops are in sympathy) that the Church bring its practice into line with “contemporary Swedish realities”. A committee of the Church Assembly assigned the task of reflecting on the issue from a theological perspective has promised to produce a report in March 2002, and it is thought that, given the stances of its members, the result will likely be a majority report proposing that the Church of Sweden institute a “wedding-like” ceremony to “bless” such “partnerships” and a minority report opposing such a development.

There have, however, been two instances so far of parochial revolt against the new Church Order, one of which has succeeded and the second ended in an ambiguous compromise. In late 2000 a parish in the Gothenburg Diocese, Solberga, called as its pastor a priest opposed to the ordination of women, Anders Hjalmarsson. This was, of course, illegal under the new regulations, and the diocesan authorities demanded that the Parish Council reconsider its choice. However, since it is the Parish Councils, selected as its members are from candidates affiliated with the various Swedish political parties who often have no involvement in the life of the congregation, that enforces the “politically correct” attitudes of the regime, but which, in the case of Solberga, was dominated by active members of the congregation, this was unlikely to work in this instance. The Parish Council, in fact, refused to reconsider, and since the only other option open to the diocesan authorities was to attempt to dissolve the parish, they gave up and recognized the congregation’s choice.

And in the northern Swedish city of Harnosand a major uproar erupted over the choice of a new cathedral dean, when the diocesan governing board, which had the right to appoint to the position, turned down without explanation the candidate who had been proposed by both the bishop and the cathedral congregation’s Parish Council, appointing instead a woman pastor. The ordination of women was not itself per se an issue in this controversy, but when the Diocesan Board refused either to reconsider their decision or to give a reason for it the Parish Council appointed their original choice to be their “cathedral vicar” and resolved to pay him the wages for the deanship, for which they, and not the diocese, were responsible. After well over a year of controversy, the dispute reached its end, in several stages: the Diocesan Board’s appointee, Lisa Tegby, withdrew her claim and received financial compensation to the tune of the equivalent of two year’s pay; the position was then declared open to applicants, but when all the applicants withdrew except for the Parish Council’s original choice, Benny Helgesson, the Diocesan Board refused to accept him and declared the deanship “temporarily vacant”; and only when Helgesson was offered and accepted the position of Swedish chaplain in Nice, France did the Diocesan Board advertise the position for a third time and agree to include representatives of the Parish Council in the selection process -- a step that finally produced a candidate acceptable to all parties. There is no doubt that the position of the Diocesan Board was the legally correct one, but the conflict was a good example and foretaste of the sort of difficulties likely to arise in the future as a consequence of the transfer of real authority in the church from the bishops to the Church Assembly and Diocesan Boards and from the parish pastors to the Parish Councils.

As to the “orthodox opposition”, the Free Synod has experienced a period of internal turmoil over its direction and its very existence. At its November 2000 meeting a proposal that it dissolve itself in consequence of its failure to achieve any of its goals and be replaced by a loose “support structure” centering on Bishop Gaertner was voted down, and in the aftermath of the vote the Rev’d Dr. Dag Sandahl, a member of the Church Assembly and for years one of the most prominent and active members of the Free Synod, quit the group. At and after its March 2001 meeting at Uppsala there was a good deal of strong disagreement between a younger, more assertively Lutheran, cadre of Free Synod members who wished to have the Free Synod take a strong and explicit stand in favor what they held to be the “classical” Lutheran understanding of “Justification by Faith Alone” (and implicitly in opposition to the Roman Catholic/Lutheran “Joint Declaration on Justification”), and the “Catholics” (those espousing a “catholicizing” or “catholic-minded” view of the Swedish Reformation) who wished to retain opposition to the ordination of women and, more generally, to theological liberalism and a “political” model of church government as their raison d’etre. By the end of 2001 this disagreement had not been resolved, and two of the “old guard” members of the Free Synod, the Rev’d Dr. Folke T. Olofsson and the Rev’d Goeran Beijer, separately told me that they had each come to the conclusion that the Synod would remain paralyzed until the “Confessionalists” and the “Catholics” had amicably agreed to disengage and to go their separate ways.

The Free Synod, likewise, appeared to be treading water, if not floundering, throughout this period over the best way forward to secure outside assistance if it should come to a break with the “institutional” Church of Sweden. There seems to me to be a general perception among the Synod leadership that if it came to a break few lay members would associate themselves with it, unless it occurred in dramatic circumstances or unless Bishop Gaertner were to place himself at the head of such a secession, neither one of which circumstance seemed likely to arise in the immediate future.

My more “catholic-minded” contacts in the Free Synod appeared to be of the mind that the “Nordic Catholics" would be far too explicitly Catholic to attract significant numbers of their colleagues and coreligionists, and that a much-discussed possible link with one of the more coherent and Anglo-Catholic (as well as strongly-led) “continuing Anglican” bodies, the Anglican Province of Christ the King, would be handicapped in much the same way. In late 2001 the talk was of an “Eastern Alliance”, by which one or another of the strongly conservative Lutheran bishops of former parts of the Soviet Union, such as Archbishop Janis Vanags of Latvia or the Lutheran bishops of Belarus, Ingria (a region in the vicinity of St. Petersburg, Russia, inhabited by a Lutheran ethnic group, the Ingrians, related to both the Estonians and the Finns) or Lithuania would consecrate several leading figures of the Free Synod to the episcopate -- or, tailing this, that Professor Peter Beyerhaus, a retired Lutheran Theology Professor of Tuebingen University who, in retirement, had got himself consecrated to the episcopate by one or more episcopi vagantes (“wandering bishops”, that is, bishops without sees or often churches, usually terming themselves “Old Catholics”, but unrecognized by the “official” Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht --concerning whom, see my article “Old Catholics, New Doctrines: the Fall of the Union of Utrecht” in the January/February 1999 issue of Touchstone) would himself consecrate bishops for the Free Synod, all in the hope that by such a course of action the “Lutherans” and the “Catholics would be able to hold together; but whether all this talk would lead to action remained as uncertain at the end of 2001 as it had been at the beginning of the year.

Bishop Gaertner himself, at the end of that same year 2001, faced the threat of canonical difficulties and the loss of his remaining “official function” as episcopal visitor to the religious communities of the Church of Sweden, and perhaps even deposition from the ministry of the Church of Sweden, as a result of his action on December 1st in dedicating a church building against the will of the Bishop of Karlstad, in whose diocese the church, located in the hamlet of Stigen in South Dalsland, is alleged to belong. One has to write “alleged”, because the circumstances are unique. The church building, a disused Pentecostalist meeting house, was bought by a group of Church of Sweden conservative confessionalist Lutherans who wanted to be “of the Church and yet not in the Church”, and they chose as their pastor Per Anders Grunnan, a man who, unable to be ordained Sweden because of his opposition to the ordination of women, had gone to Russia to teach at the Ingrian Lutheran seminary in St. Petersburg and while there had been ordained by Bishop Kaakauppi of Ingria -- an ordination which the authorities of the Swedish Church have refused to recognize.

Save for the official non-recognition of its pastor’s ordination, this new congregation at Stigen would appear to all intents and purposes to be a new koinonia, “of” and yet not “in” the Church of Sweden. When he performed the dedication, Bishop Gaertner insisted that he had undertaken to act on behalf of people who had been ignored and neglected by the church structure of which they were a part, and not to breach the unity of the Church of Sweden (he was quoted in Goteborgsposten, the main newspaper in western Sweden, a few days after the dedication service as saying that “The Church of Sweden itself must bear the consequences of its own acts. When people within the church are locked out of church buildings, when some of those fit to be ordained are not ordained by the church, there is nothing strange about people finding ways to gather on their own”), while the Bishop of Karlstad, Bengt Wadensjo, accused Gaertner of violating the Church Order by performing an episcopal function in the Karlstad diocese without his permission, a permission which he had refused to give when the congregation at Stigen had requested it of him. Wadensjo and the Karlstad Diocesan Chapter (the Bishop and the Chapter constitute the diocese as a legal entity) initiated a process of formal complaint against Gaertner to the Ansvarnaemnden foer biskopar (the “Inquiry Board for Bishops”), the organ or panel of the Church of Sweden appointed to receive and investigate complaints against bishops and to issue rulings on them, later on in December. The “Inquiry Board” promised to issue a judgement on April 10,2002.

2002 © William J. Tighe


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