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How the Swedish Church used taxes to fund lavish trips

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How the Swedish Church used taxes to fund lavish trips
File photo of a Swedish priest. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT
16:30 CEST+02:00
The Swedish Church (Svenska Kyrkan) has been rocked by an expenses scandal following an investigation by a national radio programme.

Sveriges Radio’s Ekot show studied documents that show church politicians and employees have been travelling on expensive trips abroad to well-known tourist resorts and cities, with the costs totalling several million kronor.

The trips were for the most part funded by church tax (kyrkoavgift) contributions, the Swedish Church membership fees which 6.2 million Swedes currently pay.

Examples of trips included 99 people from Huddinge in southern Stockholm being sent on a five-day conference to a hotel on Malta. The trip cost 800,000 kronor ($96,000) and was justified as being used to create a “we feeling” between a new vicar and his employees.

The Botkyrka parish meanwhile has sent staff and church politicians on trips worth a total of 2.8 million kronor since 2010.

There was even a trip made by one parish in Varberg to a Premier League football match in London, which was explained as being a chance to look at the similarities between worship and football.

When contacted by The Local, the Swedish Church said it welcomed serious media scrutiny that could help it to improve in its work.

"The Swedish Church lives on its members’ confidence and it is our duty to manage that trust in the best way," Helén Ottosson Lovén, Secretary-General of the Swedish Church told The Local. 

"As part of an international, worldwide church, travelling and having exchanges with our partners around the world is an important part of our organisation. But trips should be well-motivated, and trips where the reasoning is unclear or the costs are exceptionally high are unacceptable," she added. 

"The Swedish Church is not a centralized organisation where top management can decide how individual congregations act, but the message is that every congregation should have a clear travel policy where moderation is the benchmark."

Archbishop Antje Jackelén also responded to the scandal in an interview on Tuesday afternoon.

“I feel both outrage in judgement of what appears to have happened, and humility over the fact that our system is not perfect,” she told Sveriges Radio.

“It is good that this has emerged so we can do something about it,” she added.

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