File photo of a church. Creative Commons Photo (cropped): eva-art1

Swedish Church criticized for employee buyouts

"It makes people wonder what are you doing in (the Swedish Church)"
6:11 min

The Swedish Church has paid out over SEK 115 million in severance pay to employees during the last five years, and newspaper Dagens Nyheter reports that much of this has gone to buying people out due to conflicts at work, when an employee has been bullied or criticized management. 

"The vast majority of buyouts are happening because of conflicts," Vibeke Hammarström, who works with a union for church professionals, tells the newspaper. "It's often extremely tragic events where the employer hasn't taken its responsibility. A severance payment is a form of damage that bandages up the wound, so that the person doesn't go to the Swedish Labour Court."

The archbishop, Antje Jackelén, admits to DN that there are problems. While she says that a lot of workplaces in the Swedish Church are good, there are also those that are bad, and with those, often, it's "really, really bad," she says.

DN has been in contact with many priests who were bought out and other personnel, and many describe how their severances were preceded by threats and harassment.

"I had a week to accept the severance package," one priest tells the paper, adding that if he didn't go along with it, "they would see to it that I would never get a job again."

The paper reports how another priest, Åsa Mårdberg, was bought out when she criticized her boss for keeping the lid on a scandal. In Mårdberg's parish, an adult leader of a youth group had molested several girls, and despite the fact that he had told a colleague about his behavior, and that people knew about it for several years, he was allowed to stay on and nobody had told Mårdberg. (In court, the adult leader was eventually sentenced to fines for two cases of sexual molestation.)

"There's evil, even in the Church, but people don't want to damage the Church's reputation," she says. "That's why I'm seen as a someone who ratted them out, who says that we have a problem."

Several days before DN published this article, the Swedish Church came out with its own article about the newspaper's coming report, and wrote about how it is striving to provide a good working environment for its employees.

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