Finland – women priests
Posted by Fr Mark on September 16, 2009
There are indications that the conservatism of the Church of Finland has been costing it members, according to this report.
Feud over women pastors haunts Church of Finland
by Gael Branchereau (AFP, July 4, 2007)
Helsinki, Finland – Twenty-one years after the Lutheran Church of Finland allowed women to become pastors, a small but vocal group of male clergy remain vehemently opposed to their ordination, embarrassing the Church as it tries to halt declining membership.
The opponents number only a hundred or so, or just two percent of Finnish pastors, but their complaints are getting louder now that more than a third of all clergy are women.
The female pastors are expected to outnumber their male colleagues by 2015, according to the archdiocese.
The feud is a thorn in the church’s side as it tries to better its conservative image amid a steady outflow of members.
“In 1986, we organised the work in a way so that conflicts were avoided, but now that the number of women ordained is sharply increasing, it’s not possible anymore,” Archbishop Jukka Paarma told AFP.
The issue has grown so contentious that a church synod in December threatened to sack pastors who refused to work with their female colleagues and went so far as to suspend several male pastors.
Several female pastors also filed police complaints for discrimination.
Two of the clergymen who were suspended took legal action, but Finland’s highest administrative court dismissed their case.
Meanwhile, the church’s message remains ambiguous. The synod underlined that “the opposition to the ordination of women pastors is not a heresy.”
Paarma, who describes himself as “conservative in doctrine but in practice I’m more liberal,” has called for reconciliation.
But, he said, “a pastor who does not come to his work is committing a crime against church law.”
Neither the conservative pastors nor their female colleagues are willing to speak out in the media. Contacted by AFP, representatives on both sides declined interviews.
Juha Rauhala, a 40-year-old pastor who is married to a woman pastor, works in the very conservative diocese of Oulu in the north of Finland.
He said women pastors are now accepted by the large majority of church-goers and church officials.
“I think we have tried to be tolerant for 20 years, but women pastors have paid (the price) for that,” he said.
The bishop of the Oulu congregation refused to ordain women up until he left the Church in 2000.
Satu Saarinen, a woman pastor in the same diocese who has written a doctoral thesis on the issue, said that “almost every one of the pastors in my research has met resistance in their work.”
“The resistance, opposition and avoidance has hurt women pastors, because they feel strongly that they are working under the calling. The opposition has hurt them on the level of occupational identity, but also on the deeper level of self-identity,” she said.
The debate seems ironic in a country whose political scene is considered one of the most open to women.
A century ago, Finland became the world’s first state to grant women full voting rights. After elections this March, it strengthened its position as one of the most gender-equal assemblies in the world, when women MPs rose to 42 percent. And in April it marked another milestone by appointing the world’s most female-dominated cabinet — 12 of the 20 ministers, or 60 percent, a world record according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The spokesman for the conservative pastors, pastor Eero Kavasto, insists that he is not against the ordination of women, noting that “my daughter is a pastor.”
But he is against what he calls an “anti-Christianity” trend in Europe, which is pressuring churches to adapt their doctrines as society’s values change, citing such issues as abortion, priests’ right to marry, ordination of women, and blessings of same-sex unions.
The Church of Finland fears that the debate will make it even harder to wash off its conservative image, as it struggles to maintain Finns’ interest.
A total of 82.4 percent of Finland’s 5.3 million inhabitants are members of the Church, down from 90 percent in the 1950s and 85 percent a decade ago.
According to the association “The Free Thinkers,” who have created a website on which people can opt to withdraw from the Church, every time the debate on women pastors comes up in the media the number of defections surges.
Some 100 people a day have withdrawn their church membership in recent weeks, compared to 50 a day normally.