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Helsinki pastor suspended over €100K embezzlement conviction

The so-called "heavy metal pastor" received a three-month suspension after using 100,000 euros of church funds.

Harri Kekäläinen Image: Sasha Silvala / Yle

The Helsinki Lutheran diocese council said on Wednesday that it had issued a three-month suspension of pastor Harri Kekäläinen who served at the city's Pitäjänmäki parish.

Last spring, the Helsinki district court convicted Kekäläinen on charges of aggravated embezzlement and sentenced him to a one-year suspended prison sentence. The pastor was found to have appropriated nearly 100,000 euros of church funds for his personal use.

Kekäläinen was also known as the "heavy metal pastor" because he had organised church services where hymns were sung in heavy metal style.

Church officials first caught wind of irregularities in the flow of funds in January, when the Vantaa parish union wanted to transfer 530,000 euros to a bank account held by the Helsinki parish union. However the organisation accidentally paid the funds into Kekäläinen's personal account.

The heavy metal pastor did not inform the Vantaa parishes about the accounting error and used 93,000 euros to pay off some of his debts. Kekäläinen later admitted to using the cash in the manner described by prosecutors and returned the money to the Vantaa parish union.

Diocese: Pastor still fit to be minister

In its ruling, the Helsinki diocese said that Kekäläinen demonstrated extreme irresponsibility, recklessness and lack of judgment in using the funds without first checking where they originated and why.

It noted that a parish pastor should, because of his position, be aware that he had no right to monies paid by a parish union.

For its part, the district court said that on the scale of criminal activity, the pastor's offence would normally draw a prison sentence of about two years and three months. However the court issued a lighter sentence in light of Kekäläinen's initiative in resolving the matter as well as the fact that he had no hand in transferring the money to his personal account.

The diocese's decision was influenced by the mitigating factors mentioned in the court ruling. It also noted that Kekäläinen's actions were not related to the discharge of his pastoral duties in the Pitäjänmäki parish, nor to the finances or operation of the parish or to his duties as a cleric.

As a result, the diocese ruled that it did not see the convicted man as unfit to be a pastor nor should he lose his position as a cleric.