Academic journal article European Studies

The Catholic Danger': The Changing Patterns of Swedish Anti-Catholicism - 1850-1965

Academic journal article European Studies

The Catholic Danger': The Changing Patterns of Swedish Anti-Catholicism - 1850-1965

Article excerpt

Abstract

In the 1860s, Sweden's harsh religious legislation was liberalised. The Dissenter Act legalised conversions to other Christian denominations, but it put in place many obstacles to leaving the Established Church, and many of the legal restrictions were obviously anti-Catholic in intent. Anti-Catholic sentiment was also expressed in conjunction with the legislative proposals and parliamentary debates on the question of religious freedom that preceded the Act on Freedom of Religion of 1951. The fact that full religious freedom was introduced so late stemmed largely from fears that the Catholic Church would grow strong under the protection of more liberal religious legislation. The chapter addresses anti-Catholic rhetoric in Sweden from the mid 1800s to the early 1960s with focus on the debates in the media and in Parliament. It is found that there was a shift in the perception of the 'Catholic danger'. At the beginning of the period, anti-Catholicism was prompted by a desire to shield Protestant religious unity; later the objective became more and more secular. Even if the country's Lutheran heritage still played an important role for Swedish cultural identity, common values were no longer prompted by religion, but purely by politics and ideology.

In the autumn of 1921, the Catholic Apostolic Vicar of Sweden, Bishop Albertus Bitter, submitted a petition to the newly instituted National Board of Education requesting that inaccurate statements about the Catholic Church's doctrine and practice in schoolbooks on history and church history should be corrected. The petition, of which 3,000 copies were printed and distributed to schools across the country, referred to the national school curriculum, issued two years before, which stated that teachers should avoid anything that might be perceived as a hurtful attack on individuals' political and religious views. Several examples were given of how these principles had been offended in the description of the Catholic Church, not least concerning the worship of Mary and the saints, indulgences, and the Jesuit order. The Catholic leadership in Sweden thus hoped to benefit from the demands for a more secular education that had long since been advocated by Swedish liberals and socialists (Bitter 1921; Werner 1996, 78-99).

The effect of the Catholic schoolbook petition was dramatic, for it gave rise to one of the largest press campaigns against the Catholic Church in Sweden in modern times. The petition was rejected by an almost unanimous press, and the newspapers proclaimed themselves embarrassed by what they described as an impudent attempt by the Catholics to win influence over the country's education policy, placing it under 'papal censorship'. The National Board of Education, which investigated the issue, concluded that Catholic criticism of the Swedish schoolbooks was unfounded and on the whole thoroughly exaggerated. There the matter rested. The Catholic intention of bringing about a reassessment of the impression of the Catholic faith and practice given in Sweden's schoolbooks thus failed, and the only thing achieved by the petition was a violent press campaign against the Catholic Church (von Engeström 1921; Wadensjö 1968, 208-10).

It was not the first time that the Catholic Church had been subject to this type of media attack, nor would it be the last. The next press campaign was already underway in the summer of 1923, this time triggered by the visitation to the Nordic countries by Cardinal Willem van Rossum, prefect of the Roman Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. The cardinal's visit, which was part of the Catholic Church's increased missionary activity in Scandinavia, provoked fierce debates in the press, with many conspiracy theories and anti-Catholic attacks. The fact that the Bridgettine order had established what was ostensibly a rest home, but was suspected to be a disguised convent, in the Stockholm suburb of Djursholm, and that Swedish High-Church priests had participated in some of the events organised in connection with the cardinal's visit, merely fuelled anti-Catholic sentiment (Werner 1996, 256-266). …

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