Bishop Teemu Sippo of Helsinki remained hospitalized in critical condition Jan. 4, more than a week after he fell on an icy road and sustained a traumatic head injury.
The 71-year-old bishop’s absence from the diocese since the Dec. 26 accident comes at a challenging time for the Finnish Catholic Church as state regulations have led to a reorganization of diocesan finances that is draining fiscal resources.
The situation has forced Diocese of Helsinki officials to confront a potentially crippling financial crisis at a time of growing demand for ministry, Marko Tervaportti, diocesan communications director, told Catholic News Service.
“These two factors have resulted in the diocesan economy to almost collapse,” Tervaportti said. “The bishop’s absence will make the management of these burning issues even harder.”
The church’s struggles stem from state-imposed requirements that the diocese provide additional employee benefits to priests to bring them in line with workers at private enterprises. The church also has seen a hike in taxes under Finnish law.
Finland’s Catholic community, which stands at about 15,000 and includes about 30 priests, represents a small minority in a country where 73 percent of the population of 5.5 million is Lutheran and 26 percent is atheist. While the number of Catholics is growing because of immigration, the church has little additional income to support itself, Tervaportti explained.
He said officials are planning cuts to diocesan and parish personnel as well as parish activities to meet the growing shortfall of cash. As many as three of Finland’s eight parishes may need to close, he said.
Tervaportti said Sippo is conscious but weak and that he is facing a prolonged recovery.
“He has also had a high fever for a few days,” Tervaportti said. “There is no estimation yet as to how long the period of recovery will eventually be.”
Father Raimo Goyarrola, vicar general, is leading the diocese during Bishop Sippo’s absence.
“We just need to wait and pray,” Goyarrola told Catholic News Service by email. “Catholics and even many non-Catholic Christians have shown their support and are indeed praying for the recovery of the bishop — this is a great sign of communion.”