The latest data compiled by the National Registry shows a dramatic exodus from the national church of Iceland, with thousands leaving over the past few years.
The statistics measured religious registration in Iceland from 1 December 2009 to the end of June 2011. By law, children of mothers registered in the national church are registered in it by default. Leaving the church, as well as registering with another religious institution, involves a short application process (in Icelandic).
During the statistical time period, the National Registry reports, “the net reduction [of registered members] of the national church due to change of religious affiliation [which includes de-registering and not claiming a new religion] was about 6,500.”
At the same time, registration into the Free Church – a Lutheran church unaffiliated with the government – was about 1,500 and registration into other religious institutions was about 500. About 4,800 Icelanders left the national church for the sole purpose of de-registration, choosing to remain outside of an officially recognised religious institution.
The highest point of registration as “outside a religious institution” took place between July and September 2010, when some 2,809 Icelanders took this decision. It was also noted that more men than women left the national church, and de-registration was also more common in the capital area than in the countryside.
The national church has, for nearly a year now, been at the centre of a sex abuse scandal involving the former bishop, whose daughter came forward last fall to reveal that she had been sexually abused by her father, and the current bishop, who hid evidence of this abuse for a year and a half before reporting it to church authorities. The scandal and the church’s response has led to increased talk of separation of church and state in Iceland.