Decades ago in Europe....churches were directed into a funnel when it came to public funding, taxation, and church-donations. Call it a deep distrust that arose out of the Thirty Years War, or just plain deceit by so many church groups.....but the funnel was to prevent fraud. Most will say.....it worked.
This week in Norway.....an odd event occurred over the Catholic Church, it's revenue machine via the government, and public trust.
Roughly five years ago....the state had on it's books a total listing of roughly 55,000 standing Catholic members. From that batch, a monthly church tax was taken, and distributed to the state Catholic Church system. From what the news media says....that 55,000-number was pretty stable and not really going up or down.
Well....around 2010....something happened. The government of Norway can't say what precisely occurred or who allowed this to happen.....but over the last four years.....nearly sixty thousand new Catholic Church members were added to the rolls. That meant.....some church tax was taken from them, and added to the funding device that the church runs.
I guess in the past year.....someone accidentally stumbled across this. Naturally, for years and years....having membership stay around the same number, you wouldn't expect any radical changes....maybe a hundred people passing away...maybe a hundred people joining up. To just say sixty thousand of new folks just appeared....doesn't work.
So the gimmick has been put into this explanation. For some reason.....government clerks just all assumed (hard to explain this with a straight face).....that if you came from a prominently Catholic country to Norway.....then you must be Catholic. So they entered into the database, and you were officially Catholic without really asking you or making you understand the implications.
Naturally, the Bishop in charge of Norway is upset....trying to explain that he think it just affects a couple thousand at best. But he's not really clear on this, nor will facts support any assumption. It might be a thousand bogus Catholics added......it might be ten thousand.....or it might even be sixty-thousand.
Paying the money back? I doubt if the Catholic Church wants to discuss this,and just hopes the matter will close itself.
All of this brings me back around to the state mechanism and why it all matters. Unlike the US where they just assume transparency, and have survived for decades with no violent religious conflicts.....Norway and Europe have not been so lucky. It's true.....since the mid-1700s....things have vastly improved. But from the point where the Roman Empire dissolved, until the late 1600s....it's been a fairly harsh environment with religious groups fighting religious groups, and body-counts mattered. Transparency....is absolute in terms of allowing a group to function.
So, when you bump into this story.....stand back for a minute and understand the whole big picture. It's not that simple. There might be suddenly 66,000 new Catholics in Norway. There might be one single new Catholic in Norway. You just don't know.