The courts have found that the Catholic Church in Norway defrauded the state of millions of pounds over several years, yet church leaders remain reluctant to admit juridical guilt. A leading Norwegian theologian examines a case that has infuriated many inside and outside the Church
The humiliating saga began in February 2015 when police ransacked the offices of the Diocese of Oslo, after it had been accused of serious fraud. In Norway, a predominantly Lutheran country of little more than five million people, the state and local authorities support the various religious communities in proportion to the number of members. It was alleged that the diocese, which manages the records of the Catholic Church across Norway, had vastly exaggerated its membership to increase the support it received from the state between 2011 and 2014.
Funds involved amounted to at least 40.6 million Norwegian kroner (£3.6m) from the state and a similar sum from local authorities. The Bishop of Oslo, Bernt Eidsvig, and the diocesan finance officer were questioned by investigators.
These phantom Catholics were people with “Catholic-sounding names” (mainly Latino and Polish) whose details had been lifted from the phone directory and other public sources. They included a woman from Iceland who had had no contacts at all with the Catholic Church and expressed an inclination towards ancient Norse religion. The Polish-born communications director of the Norwegian Humanist Association discovered that she, unknowingly, had figured in the membership records of the Church for 20 years.