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Court cases against the Catholic Church concerning membership fraud

  • December 2017

Over the course of 2017, Oslo District Court (the court of first instance) heard two separate cases on membership registration in the Catholic Diocese of Oslo. In both cases, the Diocese was charged with membership fraud. The diocese reported as members a large number of individuals who had never registered with the Diocese as members of the Church to the authorities. It received, thus, an inflated rate of per capita financial compensation. In the period from 2011 to 2014, the Diocese, which had experienced a rapid growth in congregants and participants in their services following an influx of labor migrants from Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries, estimated their membership by looking up “Catholic-sounding” surnames in the phone book.

In the first court case, the Diocese sued the state after receiving a claim of back payments of approximate NOK 40 million (EUR 4 mill), arguing that their “phone book practice” was comparable to that of the Nordic churches, all of which receive financial compensation in Norway based on the national registry, and not on specific membership, and that the claim of back payments, therefore, constituted religious discrimination. The Diocese lost the case, but lodged an appeal, and the case is currently pending before the Borgarting Court of Appeal.

In the second court case, the former head of finances in the Diocese and the Diocese itself were charged with gross negligence after the Diocese refused to pay a fine of NOK 1 million for their membership practice. While the head of finances was acquitted, the Diocese was convicted, and charged with a fine of NOK 2 million. The Diocese has still not decided whether it will be lodging an appeal.

18 December 2017