Norway's church and state to divorce after almost 500 years

The Church of Norway and the Norwegian government are set to go their separate ways at the beginning of 2017 after almost 500 years of being together.

(Reuters /Bair175)Kirkenes church with roadsigns in Norwegian and Russian, 18 April 2008.

On Jan. 1, 2017, the motion filed eight years ago to separate church and state in Norway will finally be formalized. After the year ends, the country's priests and bishops will no longer be considered the king's appointed government officials, and the Church of Norway will become merely an independent business instead of a state agency, The Local details.

"We are facing the biggest organizational change of the church since the Reformation," said Jens-Petter Johnsen, the head of the Church of Norway's National Council, adding, "The changes will create a clear separation between church and state."

There are those who say the relationship between the church and the state will remain very close despite the formalized separation set to be implemented on Jan. 1. Norwegian Humanist Association secretary general Kristin Mile said parliament's move is not enough to create a "real distinction" between the two.

Mile points out that the parliament bill passed eight years ago still describes the Church of Norway as "Norway's national church" which is supported by the state. For her, this is a cause of concern because some people will think that the people of Norway are connected to a certain denomination.

"As long as the Constitution says that the Church of Norway is Norway's national church, and that it should be supported by the state, we still have a state church," Mile added.

Earlier this month, the Catholic Church in Norway made headlines after it was fined for alleged membership inflation. Scandinavian prosecutors imposed a fine of more than $140,000 on the Diocese of Oslo and reimbursement amounting to $4.4 million for the alleged fraud, AFP reports.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, denied doing anything illegal and receiving too much money from the state. In a statement, the church acknowledged the mistakes and wrong practices committed in their registration but said it already "cleaned up" the issue a long time ago.