Swedish Catholics are worried for a reason

Bitte Assarmo
Bitte Assarmo, chefredaktör

The Pope’s visit has gained a lot of interest in the Swedish media. But the media interest also shows how little Swedish journalists in general know about Pope Francis. Pope Francis is often described as the pope who will change the foundation of the Catholic church. What this foundation actually consists of is seldom mentioned (or understood), but the fact that change is constantly considered necessary shows that there is an extensive mistrust in Catholic values. Pope Francis is considered a good pope – because he is considered less Catholic than his predecessors.

One of the reasons why Pope Francis is regarded as different, especially in Sweden, is that in many ways his views consist with the general Swedish views, like his approach to poverty for example. This has led many journalists to believe that he also shares the current Swedish view on other issues, like abortion and marriage. The general Swedish approach is that solidarity with the poor and destitute is closely connected to a liberal view on moral issues such as sex, marriage and abortion. Many of those, who approve on Francis’s dedication to solidarity, ignore his equally strong dedication to the Catholic approach on moral issues.

Because of this Pope Francis is often wrongfully quoted, and sometimes even used as a reason to dismiss ”ordinary” Catholics as too conservative. Sometimes even people outside the Catholic church – often with a very liberal view on moral and ethics – refer to the Pope as a role model that Catholics in particular should listen more to since they (apparently) are the ones who haven’t really got the message yet.

Recently there was an interview with the Pope where he explained that he hadn’t planned to celebrate Mass in Sweden, since it’s impossible to be Catholic and sectarian at the same time. This statement caused some strong response from Swedish Catholics who were sad and devastated as they thought that the Holy Father saw their request for a Catholic mass as unreasonable and anti ecumenical.

This reaction may very well be difficult to understand for those who live in communities where the Catholic faith is fully accepted, but for Swedish Catholics the situation is somewhat different. In Sweden – where freedom of conscience is ignored in the health care system – the Catholic values are often seen not only as conservative but also reactionary and sometimes even inhumane and hostile. Not too long ago a Swedish politician, known for her strong commitment in human rights issues, compared a Christian midwife who demanded freedom of conscience in her work, with an ISIS terrorist. The midwife isn’t a Catholic herself, but her views on abortions are consistent with the views of the Catholic church.

This is why Swedish Catholics worry for a reason. Pope Francis´s words might so easily be misinterpreted and transformed into anti Catholic propaganda, even in these ecumenical times; even your own leader thinks you Swedish Catholics are anti ecumenical and sectarian…

In the light of this it’s fair to ask the question: How much does Pope Francis know about Sweden? Has he any idea of just how secularized it is? No, said Lotta Smeds – head of the Scandinavian department at the Vatican radio – when she got that question from a journalist at Swedish public service radio, Sveriges radio:
– I don’t think he is fully aware of what kind of country he arrives to, and how secularized Sweden is, she said.

Thus it’s not very strange that the Pope doesn’t know just how vulnerable the Catholic minority in Sweden can still be, despite the ecumenical and openminded atmosphere. Catholics enjoy full freedom of religion, like everyone else, but when it comes to moral issues they need to be very careful – and quiet – or otherwise they will be ridiculed and sometimes even exposed to hatred and smear. The very same ethic values as Pope Francis’s own – only, according to Swedish media, he wishes to alienate himself from them.

This doesn’t mean that the Pope will alienate himself from the Swedish society when he arrives in Sweden – it’s the other way around. Pope Francis wants to meet people, despite their faith. That is why these historic ecumenical events in Lund and Malmö October 31 – as well as the Catholic mass November 1 – are consistent with the Pope’s wishes, as a sign of love, mercy and Christian unity. Let us also hope that his message will have an impact on our possibilities to speak openly about the ethic and moral issues, from a Catholic point of view.


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