Oslo, Norway, Nov 30, 2016 / 12:09 am (CNA).- In an unusual turn of events, the Catholic Church in Norway is under fire for reportedly lying about its number of parishioners in order to receive more state monetary aid.
Scandinavian prosecutors fined the Diocese of Oslo more than $140,000 — or one million kroner — on Monday for the apparent fraud offense, according to AFP. In addition, the state of Norway is asking for a $4.4 million — or 40.6 million kroner — reimbursement from the Catholic Church.
“We’ve never done anything illegal or received too much money,” the Catholic Church said in response to the allegations, according to the Local. “We have always recognized that we have made mistakes and an unfortunate practice in parts of our registration. This was cleaned up a long [time] ago.”
The accusations against the Church stem from 2011-2014, during which the state believes the diocese pulled names from telephone directories of individuals who were not actually members of the diocese. In particular, prosecutors believe the Church used names of immigrants from predominately Catholic countries to inflate the number of members, and even used their names without permission.
This isn’t the first time the Church in Norway has experienced hiccups with state funding. In February 2015, Bishop Bernt Ivar Eidsvig of Oslo was accused of fraud in connection with membership inflation. However, the Church responded by saying most immigrants from the 2004 Polish migration to Norway attended Masses, but were not registered within the diocese. According to the Catholic Church, this led to a surge in spending without any additional state aid.
Currently, national statistics reported that the Catholic Church in Norway has about 145,000 members. The Diocese of Oslo covers a territory of about 25 parishes. State funding for churches in Norway is a common occurrence, especially for religious minorities, which in this case, includes the Catholic Church. As a mainly Protestant area, the country offers religious financing in order to balance the scales between religions.
Thuan cong Pham, the diocese’s chief administrative officer in Norway, has been officially charged with aggravated fraud. The diocese has not at this time admitted to any misconduct, but will face trial if it refuses to pay the fine mandated by the state.