Finnish Orthodox and Catholic churches criticise choice of woman as Lutheran bishop
Conservative revival movements also upset by election of Irja Askola
The choice of Irja Askola as the Lutheran Bishop of Helsinki last week has been criticised by two other major Christian denominations.
Archbishop Leo of the Finnish Orthodox Church says that the choice of a woman as a Lutheran bishop draws the churches further apart from each other. According to Leo, the choice is part of a development in which the Evangelical Lutheran Church disengages from the common heritage of churches in Finland.
“It is certainly a big change in church tradition, but the decisive change happened already when women were accepted into the clergy”, Leo said.
There were similar feelings in the Finnish Catholic Church. In an interview with the Finnish Lutheran Church newspaper Kotimaa, the leader of Finland’s Catholics, Bishop Teemu Sippo, lamented the choice.
Sippo said that although he can work together with the new Lutheran bishop, the choice nevertheless draws the churches. Orthodox Archbishop Leo said on Thursday that he understands Sippo’s comments and feels that they are correct.
Both the Orthodox and Catholic churches adhere to the tradition of reserving the priesthood for men.
Differences over the role of women in ecclesiastical work have not prevented inter-church cooperation so far in the Finnish Ecumenical Council, for instance, whose purpose is to bring splintered Christian groups closer together.
Heikki Huttunen, Secretary-General of the council, understands that the choice of a woman as a Lutheran bishop can be seen as a negative gesture by some. Huttunen nevertheless points out that such a choice has been a possibility for a long time.
“I do not believe that it would have a deeper impact. It does not shake the concept of the Lutheran ministry one way or another”, he says.
The election of Irja Askola as Bishop has also sparked discussion in revival movements within the Lutheran Church, some of which take a critical view of the ordination of women, which has been possible within the Finnish Lutheran church since 1985.
Timo Junkkaala, executive director of the Finnish Bible Institute Foundation, says that the move has caused some consternation within the movement.
“Those for whom women’s ordination is perhaps not such a big issue, might find women as bishops as more problematic”, he explains.
Vesa Pylvänäinen, the Chairman of the Finnish Pentecostal Church, which is a separate denomination from the Lutheran Church, believes that the new bishop, and her positive comments on matters such as giving blessings to same-sex couples, could lead more conservative members of the Lutheran Church to join more conservative Christian movements.
“I am quite sure that this will happen”, Pylvänen says.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Irja Askola narrowly elected as first female Finnish bishop (4.6.2010)