After a tip from a person who used to work for the Swedish Church, (Svenska kyrkan) who had reacted to the expenses covered by the church during trips abroad, journalists at Swedish Radio began requesting documents from local parishes on how their employees and elected church politicians travel overseas.
The team ended up focusing on some 80 trips that stood out in some way or other. Like the parish that sent 100 people to stay at a hotel by the beach in Malta or the relatively poor parish (Botkyrka) that paid 100,000 kronor for one evening at a restaurant in Istanbul where the alcohol was paid for by the church.
Another parish, Värö-Stråvalla, went to see a premier league-match between Fulham and Tottenham in London, and when asked why the members of the Swedish Church have to pay for this, the reply was that they wanted to "compare the similarities between football and a church service".
"We have found that there are a lot of parishes that would never travel outside of Sweden, but many others travel a lot - some every year and some take very expensive trips. In some cases the trips are said to be work-related, but when we investigate the receipts and other things connected to those trips, we find a lot of other activities that are not work-related; entertainment and sightseeing and alcohol for lunch, for example," said Alexander Gagliano, who carried out the investigation with his colleague Bo-Göran Bodin, for Swedish Radio.
The money used for these trips come from the church fee that are paid by the members of the Swedish Church. With 6,2 million members, the Swedish Church is the biggest membership organisation in the country. Up until 1996, every person in Sweden would automatically become a member of the Swedish Church, but could renounce the membership when turning 18. After 1996, people become members when and if they become baptised in the Church, which - these days - approximately half of all babies born in Sweden are.
The revelations have caused anger, from people on the street, and from the parishes that do not use the money in the same way, said Alexander Gagliano. Not so much that there is a suspicion that laws have been broken, but there is a feeling that the parishes that travel a lot abroad, and spend substantial amounts on alcohol and entertainment, are breaking the trust between the members and the Church, he said.
"People that we talk to have specific expectations for what the church should do. To help people in need for example, or help out with humanitarian issues... and I think very few people know that some of that money go to politicians and employees that travel overseas to - among other things - entertain themselves," said Alexander Gagliano, reporter at Swedish Radio.