01 December 2016, The Tablet

Oslo Diocese pursues court case against Norwegian Government

The Diocese is accused of falsifying the records of up to 65,000 Catholics

The Catholic Diocese of Oslo says it is still suing the Norwegian government for “unfair” treatment despite the news this week that it is being fined one million Krone (£115,000) for, according to prosecutors, exaggerating how many members it had in order to receive government subsidies worth millions of pounds.

Oslo prosecutors say the Diocese used telephone directories to look for the names of people – mainly immigrants – who could have originated from Catholic countries, adding them to a list of parishioners attending churches between 2010 and 2014. The Norwegian State subsidises churches per capita.

Oslo's diocesan offices were raided last year as part of the investigation, and the Government wants to claw back 40.6m Krone (£3.5m) in alleged overpayments. 

In an earlier statement the Diocese said the decision regarding overpayments was “based on incorrect facts” and “should be declared invalid”.

The Diocese also disputes how Church membership is recorded in Norway and says the system discriminates against Catholics. In 2015, the Diocese received subsidies for 80,000 Catholics while it actually had 136,000 members.

A spokesman from Oslo Diocese told The Tablet that many of the new members from former Eastern Bloc countries were reluctant to be included on official State registers because of their experience of State control under Communist rule.

This week a criminal case running parallel to the civil case concluded with the diocese being slapped with a fine of one million Krone (roughly £115,000) and their chief administrative officer, Thuan cong Pham, charged with aggravated fraud. The Bishop of Oslo, Bernt Ivar Eidsvig, who was also under investigation, was not charged.

Although the Vatican will view this as a local Church matter, Pope Francis has called for more transparency when it comes to finances and has condemned corruption of all kinds.

The Norwegian Catholic Church had about 145,000 members at the beginning of the year, according to the national statistical institute SSB.

Photo: Oslo Bishop, Bernt Ivar Eidsvig

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