Gothenburg Diocese Threatens Another Confessional Pastor
As Appeals Board Reinstates Fogelqvist
Only a few days after the Church of Sweden's Gothenburg Diocese began disciplinary proceedings against another Confessional pastor, the Church of Sweden's Appeals Board slapped down the Diocese's earlier attempt to defrock Confessional Pastor Olle Fogelqvist.
On February 4, the Gothenburg Diocese Consistory formally inquired of Pastor Ragnar Block as to whether he had led services for two Mission Province congregations last summer. Two years earlier, the Consistory had written to all pastors of the diocese warning them that such service for Mission Province congregations could be grounds for being defrocked. Pastor Block, who has served over 40 years as a pastor in the Church of Sweden, published an open letter in 2012 challenging the Consistory's interpretation of CoS rules and their authority to forbid such services. Pastor Block replied to the Consistory's new inquiry on February 19, stating that he had indeed led the worship services, and again challenging the Consistory's authority to forbid such service.
Meanwhile, in a decision issued February 12, the Church of Sweden's Appeals Board reversed the Gothenburg Consistory's September 2014 decision defrocking Pastor Olle Fogelqvist. The Board rejected the Consistory's claim that Fogelqvist's August 2013 sermon, in which he rejected the ordination of women, was in conflict with CoS theology and thereby violated his ordination vow to "preach God's Word purely and clearly." The Appeals Board found that Fogelqvist had merely expressed the "classical view" of women's ordination and that this does not contradict God's Word or the Lutheran Confessions, despite the strong CoS policy requiring acceptance of women's ordination as a condition for ordination. CoS has several female bishops, including the recently elected archbishop.
The Appeals Board did find that Pastor Fogelqvist's pastoral judgment might be questioned, but only because the pastorate that included his congregation was about to be enlarged to include a congregation served by female pastors. Thus the Appeals Board found that the sermon could cause parishioners concern as to the validity of the female pastors' ministry. However, the Board noted that the appropriate consequence should be no more than an admonition to take care not to cause anxiety within the pastorate. The Appeals Board had earlier stayed the defrocking of Fogelqvist pending review.
In his reply to the Gothenburg Consistory's letter of inquiry, Pastor Block argues that the Consistory has no power to forbid pastors to lead services for a Mission Province congregation. He notes that the legislative authority in the Church of Sweden is vested in the Churchwide Assembly, not the consistories. He presented a lengthy analysis of the provision in the CoS Church Order upon which the Consistory relied, arguing that they had misinterpreted it in light of its actual wording and long precedent in Swedish church law.
Pastor Block argued further that although his ordination vows included a promise to obey CoS rules, there has long been a strong consensus, taught also by Bishop Bo Giertz, that if the vow of obedience to church rules should ever conflict with the vow to preach God's Word purely and clearly in accordance with the Confessions, the latter vow certainly takes precedence. Pastor Block noted that he was obeying this vow in preaching for the congregations in question. He further notes that he had not even violated the church rules, because the services were conducted according to the church order of the Church of Sweden.
The Gothenburg Consistory has not yet responded to Pastor Block's reply.
- Consistory's Letter of Inquiry and Pastor Block's Response (in Swedish: http://brogren.nu/Ragnar_Block.pdf
- Article on the 2012 threat by the Gothenburg Consistory: http://scandhouse.org/current/svekthreat_.pdf
- Previous articles on the Fogelqvist case: (1) http://www.scandhouse.org/s/fogelqvist, (2) http://www.scandhouse.org/s/stay
- Decision (in Swedish) of the CoS Appeals Board in the Fogelqvist case: http://brogren.nu/Olle_F_skriftlig_erinran.pdf
Christopher C. Barnekov, PhD
Scandinavia House Fort Wayne