Church and State Divorcing in Sweden

Article excerpt

Each Sunday, church bells peal from picturesque churches and magnificent cathedrals across Sweden.

But inside, many pews are empty, an indication that apathy, along with more immigrants and a greater variety of religions, is about to force the separation of the state and the Lutheran Evangelical Church of Sweden after four centuries. The first step occurred Jan. 1, when children born to at least one Lutheran parent no longer will automatically become members of the state Lutheran church.

Over the next four years, the country will largely denationalize the church, one of the world's oldest remaining state churches.

By 2000, local parishes and the state must appraise and divide up vast amounts of property. The church must cut its $1.68 billion annual budget, most of which is collected through taxes.

After 2000, the church, rather than the state, will appoint bishops.

The king no longer must be Lutheran, although King Carl XVI Gustaf says he will remain one. Civil affairs minister Marita Ulvskog, the so-called "church minister" required by law to be Lutheran, could quit the church and openly admit what she already has told its leaders: She's a nonbeliever. …