Catholic diocese raided in Oslo

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UPDATED: Norwegian police raided the offices of the Catholic Church’s diocese in Oslo on Thursday, and charged the diocese, Bishop Bernt Eidsvig and the church’s finance director with serious fraud. The church leaders are suspected of wrongfully claiming as much as NOK 50 million (USD 6.6 million) in state support by presenting fraudulent membership statistics.

Bishop Bernt Eidsvig PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

Bishop Bernt Eidsvig has denied that the church’s membership register was intentionally inflated with non-Catholics. He told newspaper “Dagbladet” this week that doesn’t think the diocese has committed any criminal offense.  PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

Earlier this week, the county governor (fylkesmann) for Oslo and Akershus reported the diocese to the police for allegedly misrepresenting its church membership. Religious denominations are eligible for state funding in Norway based on their membership statistics.

“The venture Oslo katolske bispedømmet (OKB) is charged with serious fraud, and the sum is for NOK 50 million that has been illegally claimed in state support,” Kristin Rusdal, a prosecutor for the Oslo Police District, told state broadcaster NRK. Rusdal noted that OKB, the Catholic diocese in Oslo, handles the central membership register for the Catholic Church in Norway.

Newspaper Dagbladet has reported that the diocese is accused of registering virtually all immigrants to Norway who come from largely Catholic countries as members of the Catholic Church in Norway, without asking them if they wished to join the church. The church is thus suspected of having received millions of kroner in state support based on invalid membership numbers.

NRK reported that the police raided both the offices of the diocese and two private homes, but wouldn’t say who owns the homes. Dagbladet reported that one of the homes is believed to belong to Eidsvig, who serves as bishop of the Catholic Church for the entire country. “We are searching for documents that can provide a foundation for the claims against the church in this case,” Rusdal said. “I can’t say anything more concrete.”

She said that 12 police investigators arrived unannounced at the diocese Thursday morning. “Our people were allowed in and those who were there cooperated well with the police,” she said. Among them was Gunhild Ficarra, a secretary for the diocese who told NRK “this is no fun at all.”

Bishop has denied intentional deceit
Dagbladet has reported that Eidsvig was made aware in 2012 that the church was registering immigrants as members of the church without their knowledge. In 2013, the bishop’s council voted to phase out the practice but it nonetheless continued. Eidsvig told Dagbladet earlier this week that there was no intention to manipulate membership numbers and he doesn’t think the diocese is criminally liable.

“The question is whether there was an intention, I think, to register people who are not Catholics,” Eidsvig told Dagbladet. “We have never tried to do that.” He conceded there was “no doubt” the church had registered people who were not Catholics, “but I don’t think you’ll find a clean register in any church community, not that that’s any excuse.”

Dagbladet obtained a copy of an email sent to the county governor by a whistleblower within the church, raising concerns about how  church membership was being handled by the diocese leadership. The church has earlier admitted that it registered thousands of immigrants based on their nationality, without the immigrants knowing they’d been listed as members of the diocese.

Lars Holo, a lawyer for the diocese, was on holiday abroad and said he couldn’t comment on the expanded charges against Bishop Eidsvig. He told NRK, however, that he was surprised by the charges since they come “while the diocese is in the midst of straightening things up and going along with the demands from the county governor, and before the deadline for meeting them has expired.” Berglund

  • frenk

    Whats shocking about this story is that taxpayers money is being used to support religious organizations!

    • Sean Davison

      this is Norway, they don’t have separation of church and state built into their government.
      personally I’m looking forward to the day that all(of most) of Europe disestablishes the catholic church.

      • Edvard Kragskogen

        Nor quite updates. There have been a separation between church and state, although it might very well be said it is not a complete break. All other religious communities receive public money. The amount they get is the same in percent of what the Church of Norway get, as the percent of members they have compared to the Church of Norway.

        • Sean Davison

          I’m american, the fact that the ‘church of Norway’ exists demonstrates that church and state are not separate.
          Norway has a much less religious population than my country, but the seperation of church and state is not mandated by law.

          • Charley

            Why do Americans think that the whole world should work the way the US does?

            • Sean Davison

              I don’t, I actually envy how pretty much all the Scandinavian counties work. the fact that your countries can disestablish churches is amazing.

            • inquisitor

              It would seem there are 50 million reasons.

            • kyleyoder

              Because before you left wing sociopaths took over, it worked better than any nation on earth. You think Norway was a wealthy nation before the US stationed 100,000 soldiers in Europe?

          • Frode Brenden

            There are two angles on this. The American angle, which I applaud in principle, and the way we and other European countries have solved it. By having it the Norwegian way, the politicians defacto control the church, or the “State Church” as it is called. I guess both models are a consequence of our different national histories.

            Our way is not a bad thing, and that is also why Norwegians are not very religious- the active members of the church mostly consist of blue haired ladies in the end zone of their life, meaning it will soon be over for good.. :-).
            The “State Church” is a bland blend of PC attitudes and is totally without any edge or power. Hence a peaceful society.

          • Leif Petterson

            Really Sean, there is not a functioning separation in the US it’s BS. Evidence in the opposition to gay marriage, the war on Women, anti-abortion etc. All Religious issues that dominate. They do not exist in Europe. The reason why there are state owned churches in Europe is that there is no participation. They feel it necessary to maintain the churches and give the mall missions like burial, marriage and baptisms. The church has no role, where as in the US, you cannot run for office unless you declare your love for god!

            • Sean Davison

              yeah, I’m talking about laws, not in practice. and I agree the religiousity of america is a problem.

      • Edgar Strand

        infact the state and church is separated, and the catholic church was disestablished about 500 years ago. you know this german guy called luther?

  • Mark Moore

    The Catholic church should be prosecuted as any other criminal gang.

  • John James

    Love the expression on the bishop’s face… “Hmmm…whaddaya think? Am I still getting away with it?”

  • Travis Cleveland

    Some of the opinions on this topic make it appear they would have gone along with the original constitution precluding Jesuits and Jews from even entering Norway, not a charitable position, but the way it is.

    • inquisitor

      It was a self-defense position.
      One that America should consider enacting, considering how the influence of those two groups are quite profound and not in America’s best interests.

      • Travis Cleveland

        The song you sing is well known, but it does not play well over here.