From Iceland — Half the Government Wants Separation of Church and State

Half the Government Wants Separation of Church and State

Published August 25, 2010

Half of Iceland’s government ministers are in favor of separating the national church from the state; that is, from state financial support. Hundreds are reportedly unregistering themselves from the national church. A member of the church council has called upon the nation’s clergy to apologize to the nation for “how it could be that Ólafur Skúlason was made bishop”.
The chairpeople of the parties leading the government – Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir of the Social Democrats and Minister of Finance Steingrímur J. Sigfússon of the Leftist-Greens – have recently told reporters that they would like the government to “work towards” separation of church and state.
In agreement are Minister of Culture and Education Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Minister of Foreign Affairs Össur Skarphéðinsson, Minister of Business and Economics Gylfi Magnússon, and Minister of Industry Katrín Júlíusdóttir.
While neither Össur nor Katrín Jakobsdóttir are registered in the national church, Gylfi and Katrín Júlíusdóttir both are, although they have said they have recently considered unregistering.
Hundreds of other Icelanders have both considered and done the same thing. According to the National Registry, their offices have seen a recent upswing in activity. Haukur Ingibergsson, the director of the National Registry, told Vísir that for the most part, they’ve been instructing people on the process of unregistering from the church, adding that it’s his feeling that there has been an increase in this area recently.
Many more members of the clergy are speaking up since Reykholt priest Geir Waage’s recent remarks that the sanctity of the confession takes precedence over a law requiring Icelandic citizens to report sex crimes against children. Also, as more attention is being placed on the history of former bishop Ólafur Skúlason – as well as the current bishop’s response to it – more clergy are calling for openness and forgiveness.
Ólafur Skúlason was accused years ago by several female members of the congregation of having sexually molested them. 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, Karl Björnsson, the current bishop of Iceland, 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.
The bishop also 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.”
Reverend Halldór Gunnarsson, who sits on the church council, wrote an article of Morgunblaðið entitled “An Apology”. Therein, he says in part, “As one of the church’s leaders, I ask these women, who have suffered because of this, to forgive the Icelandic church. I apologize to my nation and ask also the church to seize the day today, and the days to come, to rebuild trust anew, so that there will be no separation between the nation and the church.”

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