Scandinavian churches debate conscience-clause for priests


Northern Europe


Bishop Kari Veiteberg from Norway expects that it will become difficult for priests who do not want to seal a same-sex marriage. Photo Wikimedia Commons

Gay marriage is a topic of debate in many European churches. However, where some tend to find a blessing controversial already, others do not believe priests can fulfil their office if they don't marry same-sex couples.

The recent statements of Pope Francis led to much upheaval within the Roman Catholic Church. Some suspected the Pope of leaving the traditional doctrine on marriage that forbids same-sex couples to seal the bond of matrimony. However, soon, it became clear that the Pope spoke 'only' about a certain kind of blessing for same-sex partners who entered marriage.

However, the idea of blessing homosexual spouses when they marry is also controversial among European Christians. Last September, there was a fierce debate in the German Roman Catholic Church where a Cardinal had forbidden his bishops to bless same-sex couples, in line with the official Catholic doctrine. In response, some of the bishops decided to organise a mass blessing for all sorts of couples as a protest against the decision of the Cardinal.

The Methodist Church even split on the issue of same-sex marriage. The Methodist Church in Norway approved gay marriage so that same-sex couples could get married in church as well. Other, especially Eastern European Methodist branches, have already left the global denomination (United Methodist Church). Some have joined a new denomination: the Global Methodist Church, which presents itself as more conservative.


In the meantime, the Church of Norway has turned the debate upside down. Priests who seal same-sex marriages are no longer the exception but have become the rule. Some bishops, such as bishop Kari Veiteberg from the diocese of Oslo, openly say to doubt whether they can hire priests who do not want to marry gay couples, Vart Land reports. Veiteberg did so during a panel discussion in the context of Pride celebrations in June, where she said that she thought that she would not be able to "employ people who do not want to ordain anyone" and that "exercising the priestly profession and refraining from ordaining same-sex couples can be challenging in Oslo eventually."

Even though she nuanced her statements soon after, after all, it is not her who ordains priests, but the Oslo Diocese Council and view on marriage has never been a problem during job interviews, her view shows that the Church of Norway is already far beyond the question of whether couples may be blessed or not.


In Sweden, the same thought prevails, CNE reported earlier. When Swedish Democrats spoke out for the freedom of conscience for priests when it comes to marrying same-sex couples, two bishops wrote a letter in which they stated that "in the future, all priests should marry gay couples." And although they promised that priests would never be forced to do so, "the common goal regarding weddings is that all priests happily and of their own free will marry couples of different sexes and couples of the same sex." Earlier, three bishops had already said that they would not ordain a priest who refuses to marry gay couples.

Norwegian bishop Veitebreg has heard about the refusal of these bishops in the ordination of priests as well. "It is not impossible that it is something we should consider", she writes in an e-mail to Vart Land. "Perhaps especially in areas where queers are an important part of the church community. When the time is ripe for that, I cannot say for sure now."



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