Bishop of Iceland: The Church Failed Skip to content

Bishop of Iceland: The Church Failed

Bishop of Iceland Karl Sigurbjörnsson said the church did not come to the aid of three women who accused former bishop Ólafur Skúlason of sexual harassment in 1996. “The church failed these women,” Sigurbjörnsson told Fréttabladid.

Bishop of Iceland Karl Sigurbjörnsson. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

However, he denies having tried to force the women into dropping their allegations. When asked why he didn’t go to the police he said he had been very surprised by the women’s claims.

“I was just a small pastor,” Sigurbjörnsson said. “Of course you don’t want to believe something like that. It is the first reaction of all people to be on the defensive. Without a doubt, that’s what the church did in this instance.”

One of the women who accused Skúlason of sexual harassment, Sigrún Pálína Ingvarsdóttir, told the media that Sigurbjörnsson had tried to hush the matter up, something the bishop denies.

“We have learned from these mistakes,” he said. “I regret that there are women out there who have grievance and anger towards the church’s servants, myself included, for having failed them in these matters. It is intolerable to be the subject of such accusations, both for myself, given my position, and the church’s priests in general. Simply intolerable.”

Sigurbjörnsson said he did his best to mediate between the three women and the former bishop while this case was at its height in 1996. When Skúlason refused to apologize to the women, the case was closed as far as the church was concerned.

In regard to another heated debate involving the church, the bishop deemed Pastor of Reykholt Rev. Geir Waage’s recent comments to Morgunbladid that priests should not report on their knowledge of sexual violations against children as unfortunate.

He said he is planning to discuss the matter with Waage and said Waage will have to explain himself. “He is on his way to my office,” Sigurbjörnsson said. Waage’s comments have provoked harsh reactions; some priests have demanded that the bishop make him redundant.

Brynjar Níelsson, chairman of the Icelandic Lawyers’ Association, told that priests are obligated to report violations against children. According to his estimation, the confidentiality of priests ends when it infringes on the law of child protection.

Níelsson supports the arguments of Minister of Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs Ragna Árnadóttir who told yesterday that the obligation to report crimes exceeds all other obligations priests might have. She discussed these matters with the bishop yesterday.

Sigurbjörnsson agrees, telling Fréttabladid it is crystal clear that priests have to follow the national law, regardless of what ethical regulations of the priesthood might state.

These two affairs have caused a number of people to delist from the State Church. The bishop said it is obvious that many people feel that the church is failing in its role towards the public. The delisting is evidence of the seriousness of the church’s situation.

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