Catholic Church in Sweden

Catholic Church in Sweden

Polity Catholic Church
Governance Scandinavian Bishops Conference
Structure Diocese
Leader Bishop Anders Arborelius
Region Sweden
Founder Archbishop Ansgar, by tradition
Origin Circa 826[1]
1594-1599 de facto reestablished by King Sigismund of Sweden
1781 legally reestablished as an apostolic vicariate
Members Circa 113,000 registered members
(circa 150,000 unofficially)[2]
Official website Catholic Church in Sweden (English)

The Catholic Church in Sweden refers to the Catholic Church in Sweden, including its historical representations. The Catholic mission sui juris was traditionally established by Archbishop Ansgar in Birka in 829, and further developed by the Christianization of Sweden in the 9th century onwards. King Olof Skötkonung (ca. 970-1021) is considered the first Christian king of Sweden.

During the Middle Ages, continental culture, philosophy and science spread to Sweden through means of the Catholic Church, which also founded schools, Uppsala University, hospitals as well as monasteries and convents. Several church representatives also became significant actors outside the religious sphere.

The Reformation in Sweden was initiated in the 16th century, when King Gustav Vasa and his Riksdag of Västerås in 1527 broke the full communion of the "Swedish church" with the Pope in Rome, and instead made it politically controlled by the kingdom. Controversies about the state of Catholicism in the "Swedish church" endured, however, even until during the reigns of King John III (1568-1592) and the Catholic King Sigismund of Sweden (1592-1599).

At the Uppsala Synod in 1593, under the influence of Duke and future King Charles IX of Sweden, the Swedish church was finally statuted as a Lutheran state national church, ratified by Charles' victory in his war against his Catholic predecessor in 1599. Governmental anti-Catholicism was imposed in Sweden, including deportations and death penalties for Catholics in 1599-1781.

Limited visits of individual foreign Catholics in Sweden were decriminalised through the Tolerance Act, imposed in 1781 by King Gustav III of Sweden. The conversion of Swedish citizens to the Catholic Church was decriminalized in 1860. In 1951, Swedish citizens were allowed to exit from the Lutheran Church of Sweden. In 1977 the last legislative ban on Catholic convents in Sweden was abolished.

Since 1953, the Catholic Church in Sweden is formally represented by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockholm, covering the whole country, estimating some 106,873 registered members (2013), with unofficial estimates of about 150,000 Catholics in the country in total. Many of them have an immigrant background, while others consist of native Swedes admitted or converted from other denominations.

Sankta Maria i Rosengård, a Catholic church in Rosengård, Malmö


The Catholic Church was the established church of Sweden from the Middle Ages until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, when King Gustav I severed relations with Rome. The Church of Sweden became Lutheran at the Uppsala Synod in 1593 when it adopted the Augsburg Confession to which most Lutherans adhere.

In 1654, Christina, Queen of Sweden caused much scandal when she abdicated her throne to convert to Catholicism. She is one of the few women buried in the Vatican grotto.

In the 1770s, the prominent Liberal Anders Chydenius - himself a Lutheran priest - prevailed upon King Gustav III to legalise the immigration of Catholics (as well as Jews) into Sweden. However, the Lutheran Church remained the only legal church in Sweden until the middle of the 19th century, when other churches were allowed. The Lutheran Church remained a state church until 2000.


Members of the Swedish Catholic Church can be divided in six main groups, in order from largest to smallest:

The Polish members are most numerous, and in most parishes people of Polish descent can be found. In the larger towns they have their own masses, and in Stockholm one of the Protestant churches is used twice on Sunday since the Catholic churches are too small. Approximately one in three priests (42 of 150) are born in Poland, and several others are Swedish-born but of Polish descent.

Croatian believers from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina also typically have their own priests, a number that increased during the wars that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Spanish speakers typically come from South America, mainly Chile, and most were political refugees who never fully integrated. Since most of the Chilean exiles were Marxists or secular liberals, they generally are not active church members. Their number has increased with immigrants from Central America.

Since the 1980s an increasing number of people of Middle Eastern descent have arrived in Sweden, and in Greater Stockholm each Sunday there are several Divine Liturgies in the Melkite, Maronite, Chaldean, Armenian and Syrian Eastern Rites. Swedish-born priests from these groups also exist, and the first Swedish-born Maronite priest was ordained in August 2002 in Beirut. (The Armenian Roman Catholics are primarily from Poland, and not from the older Armenian Catholic Church.) A large number are war refugees from Lebanon, Iraq, or (more recently) Syria, or their children.

Of the roughly 200,000 Catholics, few are ethnically Swedish. In fact, the current Bishop of Stockholm, Anders Arborelius, is the first ethnically Swedish Catholic bishop in Europe since the Reformation. However, ethnically Swedish Catholics, most of whom are converts from Lutheranism, do form a majority of the traditionalist Catholics in the country. Somewhat as in England, Catholicism is seen as an option by certain more devout ethnic Swedes who consider the Church of Sweden too liberal.

Swedish saints and beatified

Bridget of Sweden (1303–1373) is the most famous Swedish Catholic saint. She founded the Bridgettines. Her daughter, Catherine of Vadstena (1331–1381) was canonized in 1484. On 9 April 2000, the church beatified Swedish nurse Maria Elisabeth Hesselblad (1870–1957), founder of the Swedish chapter of the revived Catholic order of the Bridgettines. Pope Francis approved the second miracle attributed to her on 14 December 2015 which would allow for her future canonization; the date was decided at an ordinary consistory of cardinals on 15 March 2016 and was celebrated in Saint Peter's Square on 5 June 2016.


Media related to Roman Catholicism in Sweden at Wikimedia Commons

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