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Court: Church warning to pastor who performed gay wedding was legal

The Lutheran Church told Árpád Kovács that his actions were contrary to his priestly oath and obligations.

Pastori Árpád Kovács on vihkinyt samaa sukupuolta olevan parin ja joutunut tuomiokapitulin tutkittavaksi.
Árpád Kovács Image: Paulus Markkula / Yle

The Oulu Lutheran diocese did not act unlawfully when it censured a priest for marrying a same-sex couple in 2017, according to a decision announced on Friday by the Supreme Administrative Court.

The 4-1 ruling overturned a previous decision by the Administrative Court which ruled in favour of the priest, Árpád Kovács.

He was censured in October 2017 by the Oulu diocese of Finland’s Lutheran Evangelical Church, and told that his actions violated his priestly oath and obligations.

According to the diocese, the then-new law permitting same-sex marriage earlier that year did not change church guidelines for carrying out such weddings.

Following an examination of the case, the Supreme Administrative Court agreed that the change in the law had not led to changes to the Lutheran Church's rules on marriage. The church's autonomous status in Finland is enshrined in the country's Constitution.

"All religious communities have the independent right to decide whether to marry same-sex couples," the Supreme Administrative Court's decision read.

The Lutheran Evangelical Church issued a statement regarding Friday's ruling.

"The Supreme Administrative Court has now decided whether a priest who consecrates the marriage of a same-sex couple can lead to consequences. The decisions surrounding the church's conception of marriage are the church's own decision-making body, which is part of the religious freedoms protected in the Constitution," the church statement read.

Priest reacts

Meanwhile, Kovács told Yle that he did not fully understand the court's decision and that in his opinion, the marriage of same-sex couples was a matter of conscience.

He noted, however, that the case was over whether or not the diocese could legally censure him, and was not concerned with whether gay marriages were justifiable.

"This was an administrative decision. This isn't a decision about what the church will do in the future," he said, adding that he fears the ruling could be viewed more broadly by opponents of gay marriage.

"Unfortunately, this [decision] allows certain bishops to cowardly hide behind the decision. Hopefully the old-fashioned people will not get into a rage and start spreading warnings all over the world," Kovács said.

According to Statistics Finland, last year 68.7 percent of the country's population were registered as members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, one of two state-supported churches.

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