Karl Sigurbjörnsson, the bishop of Iceland, has been in the media quite a lot lately, responding to various and sundry criticism of the national church.
After meeting with the Minister of Justice yesterday, she came to the conclusion that the church had to deal with its problems on its own, effectively washing her hands of the situation that has seen many Icelanders registering themselves out of the church.
The primary focus of the criticism has been in the way the church deals with incidences of sexual abuse within its walls. The church has also been decidedly tight-lipped about the number of sexual abuses cases reported within its walls, with one spokesman telling reporters that there had been “more than one”, but refused to reveal more. The matter has not been helped by Reykholt priest Geir Waage telling reporters last week that the sanctity of the confession overrides a law requiring every Icelandic citizen to report sex crimes against children. Numerous clergy have called for Waage’s resignation, and the bishop – who was publicly disagreed with Waage – plans to meet with him today “to hear his side of the story”.
But the matter doesn’t end there. A woman who claims she was sexually molested by former bishop Ólafur Skúlason recently told reporters that she and two other women who reported what had happened to them to church officials were “hushed up”. The church never reported the matter to the police, and when asked why this was the case, the bishop responded that “perhaps it would be better to ask [the three women] that.” He added that at the time, he didn’t want to believe the accusations, and that the church had definitely let them down.
Also regarding that case: the bishop sent a letter to the media last Sunday stating that one of the women accusing Ólafur of molestation had gone to the state prosecutor, who told her that there wasn’t enough evidence to press charges. However, in reality, it was Ólafur himself who wanted to press charges against his accusers, and the state prosecutor had advised him not to pursue the case. The bishop later apologized for this inaccuracy, calling it “a slip of the pen.”
Speaking on the television news discussion show Kastljósið last night, the bishop said he believes he still has the support of the nation, and does not plan to resign.
And these, again, are yet more reasons why the church and state need to separate in Iceland (shameless plug).