Norwegian police raided the offices of the Diocese of Oslo yesterday after it was accused of defrauding the state of millions of pounds.
The diocese, which manages the records of the Catholic Church across Norway, has been accused of vastly exaggerating its membership to increase the support it receives from the state, amounting to an additional 50 million Norwegian Krone, some £4.2m, over four years.
The Bishop of Oslo, Bernt Ivar Eidsvig, and the diocesan finance officer are suspects in the case and have been questioned by investigators, who were tipped off by a complaint filed by a church employee.
A lawyer for Oslo’s police, Kristin Rusdal, told the news agency AFP that the Church had allegedly added 65,000 people to its membership by lifting immigrants’ names from the telephone directory without their consent. This action more than doubled the number of Catholics reported to be in the country, from 67,000 to 140,000.
Mr Rusdal said that the inflated membership had resulted in the Church being awarded an additional 50 million Krone between 2010 and 2014.
Bishop Eidsvig said that the diocese had been trying to record the Catholics who came to live in the majority-Lutheran country and never intended to do anything illegal.
He told the Dagbladet newspaper: “It is a huge task that was accomplished partly in a wrong way.”
The Catholic Church makes up just a small fraction of Norway’s population of 4.7 million but has quadrupled in size in the past decade, partly through an influx of migrants and refugees.