While the Catholic Church has experienced growing disaffiliation and disaffection in much of Europe, Catholicism shows a measure of growth and vitality in the largely secularized societies of Scandinavia, reports Britain’s The Tablet (January 19).
Fredrik Heiding reports that while the numbers of seminarians and new vocations to the priesthood are modest—producing 31 seminarians out of 282,000 Catholics—they stand out from the declining seminary enrollment and vocations in the rest of Europe. Several of these candidates to the priesthood are converts: the greater public role of religion in Scandinavian countries encourages the search for a spiritual and ecclesial home, according to Heiding.
The fact that the church is less intertwined with national sentiments and structures and is freer to manifest its views, regardless of public opinion, makes it an attractive alternative to the Lutheran Church of Sweden (which, even though now independent of the state, still reflects its positions).
The church has also taken a number of initiatives that have developed the community and encouraged vocations. These include a strong network of young Catholics in Norway and Franciscans building an attractive youth network in the Gothenburg region of Sweden. There is also the recent establishment of the first Catholic university in Sweden since the Reformation; the university also includes a new seminary, which means that priestly formation no longer has to take place in Rome.
Heiding adds that it is the non-established and intimate nature of the church in this region that is behind much of this vitality. “Because the Catholic community is small, a type of family network has emerged. The Catholic Church as an organization is—perhaps surprisingly—rather horizontal, which reflects Scandinavian management culture at large …. The bishops often know the faithful by name, and although titles are used, conversation quickly moves into the more familiar second-person pronoun.”
(The Tablet, Clifton Walk, London W6 0GY UK)