Roman Catholicism in Sweden

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Sankta Maria i Rosengård, a Catholic church in Rosengård, Malmö

The Roman Catholic Church in Sweden or simply the Catholic Church in Sweden, refers to the relatively small but growing membership of the Catholic Church, constituting 2%[1] of the population of the predominantly Lutheran country of Sweden. Sweden has one of the fastest-growing Catholic populations in Europe, despite the continent's widespread secularism. Similarly to the Muslims in Sweden, officially registered Catholics number slightly over 100,000, but the numbers of baptisms suggest a considerably higher number, [1] perhaps as high as 400,000, or 4% of the country's population; Poles, Croats, and Assyrians by themselves in Sweden exceed 200,000.


The Catholic Church was the established church of Sweden from the Middle Ages until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, when King Gustav I broke off relations. He established the Church of Sweden, based on the teachings of Martin Luther. The Church of Sweden became Lutheran at the Uppsala Synod in 1593 when it adopted the Augsburg Confession to which most Lutherans adhere.

In 1654, Christina, Queen of Sweden caused much scandal when she abdicated her throne in order to convert to Catholicism. She is one of the few women buried in the Vatican grotto.

In the 1770s, the prominent Liberal Anders Chydenius - himself a Lutheran priest - prevailed upon King Gustav III to legalise the immigration of Catholics (as well as Jews) into Sweden. However, the Lutheran Church remained the only legal church in Sweden until the middle of the 19th century, when other churches were allowed. Even then, the Lutheran Church remained a state church until it was disestablished in 2000.

Prior to this, the Catholic Church had only existed in the form of independent congregations in Sweden, for example, the Diocese of Stockholm which was founded in 1953. The changes in 2000 made it possible to become officially registered and recognized by the government of Sweden.[clarification needed]


Members of the Swedish Catholic Church can be divided in six main groups, in order from largest to smallest:

  • Poles,
  • Croats,
  • Spanish language speakers,
  • Syriac language speakers,
  • Ethnic Swedes, and
  • Others. (Regarding "others" it should be mentioned that even in the smallest Catholic congregations in towns with populations under 100,000 there are, percentage wise within each congregation, quite substantial African and Asian memberships.)

The Polish members are most numerous, and in most parishes people of Polish descent can be found. In the larger towns they have their own masses, and in Stockholm one of the Protestant churches is used twice on Sunday since the Catholic churches are too small. Approximately one in three priests (42 of 150) are born in Poland, and several others are Swedish-born but of Polish descent.

Croatian believers from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina also typically have their own priests, a number which increased during the wars that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Spanish speakers typically come from South America, mainly Chile, and most were political refugees who never fully integrated. Since most of the Chilean exiles were Marxists or secular liberals, they generally are not active church members.[citation needed] Their number has been increased with immigrants from Central America.

Since the 1980s an increasing number of people of Middle Eastern descent have arrived in Sweden, and in Greater Stockholm each Sunday there are several Divine Liturgies in the Melkite, Maronite, Chaldean, Armenian and Syrian Eastern Rites. Swedish-born priests from these groups also exist, and the first Swedish-born Maronite priest was ordained in August 2002 in Beirut. (The Armenian Roman Catholics are primarily from Poland, and not from the older Armenian Catholic Church.) A large number are war refugees from Lebanon, Iraq, or (more recently) Syria, or their children.

Of the roughly 200,000 Catholics, very few are ethnically Swedish. In fact, the current Bishop of Stockholm, Anders Arborelius, is the first ethnically Swedish Catholic bishop in Europe since the Reformation. However, ethnic Swedes, most of which are converts from Lutheranism, do form a majority of the traditionalist Catholics in the country.[citation needed] Somewhat as in England, Catholicism is seen as an option by certain more devout ethnic Swedes who consider the Church of Sweden to be too liberal.[citation needed]

Maria Elisabeth Hesselblad[edit]

In 2000 a Swedish woman Maria Elisabeth Hesselblad was beatified: she founded the Swedish chapter of the revived Catholic order of the Bridgettines.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Officially there are now nearly 100,000 Catholics in the country. But the number of Catholic baptisms suggests numbers significantly higher than that: many Catholics are, for various reasons, are not registered."

External links[edit]

Media related to Roman Catholicism in Sweden at Wikimedia Commons