TURKU, Finland — The strained relationship between church and state in Scandinavia was a leading issue at the forefront of the recent Nordic Bishops’ Conference general assembly in Turku, Finland.
“As Christians in a secular society, we must speak with one voice to proclaim the message of Christ today,” Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm said during the five-day conference, which included meetings with the leading Lutheran bishops of the Nordic countries.
The Nordic Bishops’ Conference consists of Catholic bishops representing the nations of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland, where Catholics remain a small minority.
Despite its small size, the Catholic Church in Scandinavia has received increasing attention from the Vatican lately. The nuncio was recently relocated to Sweden and, last May, Pope Francis made Arborelius the first Scandinavian cardinal.
The cardinal said the ecumenical relationship between Catholics and Protestants must always consist of deeds in addition to words. He expressed gratitude that Catholics in Sweden have been permitted to use more than 100 Lutheran churches to hold Catholic services.
The Catholic Church in the Nordic countries has struggled for survival in recent years as it has come under increasing political pressure. As its moral teachings are in contrast with state-promoted secular goals, it is largely viewed as an undesirable organization and is barred from collecting financial support through state taxes.
Catholic communities in Scandinavia depend on help from the German Catholic Church to exist and function. One of the major German Catholic support groups for Scandinavia is Ansgar Werke, a cooperative project by the German dioceses of Osnabruck and Hamburg to provide donations to fellow Catholics in the North.
In June, members of the Nordic Bishops’ Conference will travel to Rome for their “ad limina” visits, made about every five years to report on the status of their dioceses.