Swedish Government Threatens to Close Catholic Schools

“The proposal is an aggressive assault against our Catholic community.”

(photo: via Wikimedia Commons)

Stockholm — Christianity came to Sweden in the person of St. Ansgar (AD 801–865) when he visited Birka in AD 828–829 where he was given permission to build a church.

However, the rising alarm and ire against Muslim immigrants has threatened to dislodge Christianity as the foundation upon which Swedish culture is based. In fact, the Pew Research Center points out that practicing Muslims will make up 20-30 percent of the Swedish population within 30 years.

This nationalist ire is now being directed toward Catholics and their children.

Sweden’s school system consists of state schools, independent schools and confessional schools. According to national law, all three types of schools are entitled to public funding. This was done to make sure its citizens had access to schools based on their preferences or belief, independent of one’s financial situation.

There are approximately 4,000 state schools and more than 800 independent schools in Sweden. Of these, only 71 are confessional schools. Of these, there are 59 Christian, 11 Muslim schools and one Jewish school. Of all the Christian schools, Catholics operate only three primary schools.

Of the three Catholic schools in Sweden, the largest is Notre Dame in Gothenburg. It was founded 1873 by French Josephite sisters and has 400 pupils. In 1936, German nuns from the same order took over the school. As those nuns withdrew in the beginning of 2000, the school is now managed by lay Catholics. 

Daniel Szirányi, Member of the Board of Notre Dame School, spoke about the current threat against Catholic education.

“We are deeply rooted in Swedish society and as an example, our building expansion in 1997 was inaugurated by Queen Silvia of Sweden together with our late Bishop Hubertus Brandenburg,” explained Szirányi. “Families choose our school based on the fact that it is Catholic, and we have a large number of students with foreign backgrounds representing 70 nationalities and 49 languages.”

Sweden is currently governed by a minority government consisting of the Social Democrats and the Greens. To gain majority in their proposals, they solicit support from the Left — the former Communist party — and some of the center-right opposition parties. 

In recent years Sweden has given asylum to a record number of refugees if calculated per capita. Their society has struggled to integrate the large amount of people more likely than not, from non-Christian cultures. This has led to a great deal of opposition in media and within politics, especially against Muslim immigrants. 

The Sweden Democrat Party, an opposition party that opposes immigration, has gained strong support in polls, and it looks like the current government will struggle to stay in power after the upcoming elections in September this year.

To boost their image in the public eye, the Social Democrats have augmented their rhetoric to include tougher comments on integration and immigration. 

Last autumn, the Social Democrat party congress proposed to shut down all confessional schools, as they think that these schools are hindering integration. Their principle expressed concern is the gender segregation in Muslim schools, which they consider unacceptable.

Confessional schools in Sweden are united in urging the government to simply focus on identifying schools with problems and act upon those problems, shutting down schools only as a last step. A similar incident is taking place among Jewish yeshivas in New York City in which it was found that the greater percentage of its graduating students can neither read English nor understand simple mathematics. The current New York City municipal government reacted to this news by legislating blanket reforms in all non-public schools — even Catholic ones in which the children excel in both English literacy and mathematical numeracy. Legislation is currently being proposed to alter the number of Catholic students in Catholic schools in Britain.

Swedish atheistic politicians are obviously happy with the Social Democrat proposal:

  • The Left (former Communist party) has always been against religion and is a strong supporter of closing down confessional schools.
  • The Social Democrats, the Left (former Communist party) and the Liberal party (ALDE) are supporting the idea of closing down confessional schools.
  • The Christian Democrats (EPP), the Moderate party (EPP) and the Sweden Democrats (EFD) do not want to close down confessional schools, however, the Sweden Democrats would like to make it harder to start new confessional schools. The Greens and the Center party (ALDE) haven’t mentioned that they would like to change the current legislation.

The local English newspaper, The Local, also covered the story, reporting: “If re-elected, the Social Democrats vowed to turn today's religious independent schools into non-religious schools, though the party still needs to investigate how to do that.”

“There is currently no political majority for the proposal to close down confessional schools though the chilling threat still looms large over the Catholic Church,” Szirányi pointed out. “In addition, there is a very negative public debate with a lot of pre-judgments against us and religion in general.

This teapot-sized tempest was started by an op-ed piece written by Ardalan Shekarabi, the Minister for Public Administration in the new Stefan Löfven government. Shekarabi is an Iranian-born, naturalized Swedish citizen. He insisted that the separation of the sexes in some private Swedish schools amounted to fascism, sexual repression and the “violation of basic human rights.”

Szirányi points out the importance of people in Sweden and “Catholics around the world to understand that this plan is absurd and based on prejudice against Christians which is all too often popular these days.”

“We need to show that our school has been present in Sweden for 150 years and that we do a fantastic job guiding children into a positive future and integrating various cultures into Swedish society by instilling in them Catholic values and faith,” explained Szirányi.

However, it’s been pointed out that Minister Shekarabi has had a long history of financial misdealings with his government — including in December 2004 when Dagens Nyheter, the Swedish daily newspaper, revealed that Shekarabi had siphoned funds from his political party's youth fund SSU into an account earmarked for integration projects. This account was later used for private purchases.

It was further been pointed out that during Shekarabis leadership in the SSU, he participated in extensive cheating with party memberships inflating the numbers wildly in order to gain more funds from SSU.

“What we see now is that the laïcité principle, that all religion should be removed from public space, now getting traction as the most comfortable way of dealing with the ’uncomfortable’ religion of Islam,” explained Charlie Weimers, Chief of European Parliamentarian Staff for Lars Adaktusson (Swedish Christian Democrats) to The Register

“Because by using this line of argument, Ardalan Shekarabi escapes, even though the gender apartheid he himself describes having experienced as a child occurred within the framework of the Islamic Republic of Iran, speaking of Islam and instead talking about ’religions.’ Then he and others will avoid being called Islamophobes. In addition, he conveniently conveniently offers the standard Christianiphobic fare that liberals subsist upon,” explained Weimers. “The Social Democrats, for that matter, obviously do not care that well-functioning schools that live up to the national curriculum requirements — such as the Catholic school, Broskolan and Hillelskolan — will become sacrificial pawns in this bigoted madness.”

Charlie Weimers pointed out that, “Minister Ardalan Shekarabi is hardly worried that the Jewish Hillel School in Stockholm, the Catholic School in Gothenburg or Bridge School in Örnsköldsvik will follow the Islamic Republic of Iran's gender apartheid. Nevertheless, Shekarabi draws in all ’religious free schools’ in order to ban all of them.

Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm expressed his concerns about the current situation.

“Admittedly, it was a single member of the Party who proposed that confessional schools be shuttered, but I do not think that he has the support of his entire party. The Ecumenical Council of Sweden has written an article in protest in Svenska Dagbladet, the major daily newspaper in Stockholm, and I think that the Interreligious Council will also react. Other political parties will be contacted as well.

“We are very worried, of course, as the proposal is an aggressive assault against our Catholic community.”

“Previous attempts to make the life for our school more difficult by stopping financial support to the Catholic school and to some of the independent schools have fortunately failed.”

“We especially concerned about long-term plans for expansion, the Notre Dame’s administration’s hopes to start Sweden’s first Catholic high school. We need to postpone any discussion and fundraising due to this new proposed legislation which is very troubling,” explained Bishop Anders. 

“We need to be vigilant. Although European legislation prohibits the closure of confessional schools, an obvious risk for us is negative publicity and potentially restrictions in public funding,” added the Bishop.“This is the worst secularist attack on our culture and Faith in many decades. It is both disheartening and troubling.”

Bishop Arborelius asked for the prayers of all Register readers in these unfortunate and troubling times.

Some relevant reports in the media: