Legal theologian: The Norddjurs complaint against the bishop is of interest to the entire national church

As can be seen from Kristeligt Dagblad’s coverage of the complaint from nine parish councils and nine priests in Norddjurs Provsti against the Aarhus bishop Henrik Wigh-Poulsen, I have provided professional assistance for its preparation. Based on my in-depth knowledge of the case, I have been asked from several sides whether there is law in the case. The short answer is: Yes.

The slightly longer answer reads: The case contains some legal issues to which no clear answer can be given. I would like to point out three matters in anonymized form, even though they are to a significant extent publicly known in the provost, and in this connection ask a number of legal questions, which I quite deliberately refrain from answering myself, because the matter is under consideration in the Ministry of the Church.

1. The first issue concerns an infringement case. A female parish priest filed a complaint against the provost of Norddjurs for sexually abusive behavior towards her. However, the charges were partially dropped and the case was closed. The infringement case raises several legal questions:

Can you close a MeToo case when the priest’s charges against the provost are only partially dropped? Should there be consequences for the priest to make serious and partially retracted accusations?

In comparison, libel and false reviews remain punishable even if withdrawn, but the withdrawal may be a mitigating circumstance. When the MeToo case was closed by the bishop, was there a legal basis for “sanctioning” the provost?

2. This brings us to the second legal issue. In the Ministry of the Church’s “Report 1527” from 2011 on the position of provost and the function of the provost, the provost’s tasks are described in such a way that they are tasks that are embedded in the function of the provost.

At the same time, the report states that “the bishop has management rights in relation to the provost’s supervision and management”, and that “the provost’s supervision and management function is exercised to a considered degree in cooperation with and with the support of the bishop”.

In the complaint, the bishop successively deprived the provost of his management powers and so on, including supervision of the complaining priest. The bishop’s actions caused concern and frustration in the parish councils and among the priests, and it must raise the question of whether such a comprehensive deprivation is in harmony with the report’s description of the content of the provost position.

Can a bishop, by using his management competence, sovereignly empty the position of provost partially or completely for the tasks that are linked to the position of provost by employment law? Is it a question of a provost’s dismissal in practice, which can take the place of a possible discretionary dismissal on top of an official investigation of a royally appointed official’s performance of his provost’s position?

3. The third legal matter concerns the bishop’s decision to engage a certain provost emeritus to assist the priests in being a “self-driving” team that organizes and distributes the tasks in the pastorate between them, and to settle the cooperation difficulties that were – or are? – between the complaining priest and the other priests.

The provost emeritus resides in the parish of the complaining priest and has taken on temporary duties in the parish church, where the local provost was barred by the bishop from conducting services in the church. The choice of this particular provost emeritus calls into question his impartiality and impartiality, which must lead to a consideration of whether the provost emeritus’ statements should be taken with reservations.

Now it is up to the Ministry of Church Affairs to deal with the law in this case and assess how the various matters will be decided individually and collectively. The decision has, above all, concrete significance for the bishop of Aarhus and the complaining priests and parish councils in Norddjurs Provsti. At the same time, it has a fundamental interest and relevance for the entire national church with its structural combination of democracy and hierarchy.

Kristine Garde is legal theologian, PhD. and has provided professional assistance in preparing the complaint from Norddjurs Provsti.

This is a discussion post. The post is an expression of the writer’s own position.

Source: Kristeligt Dagblad – Latest articles. by

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