Norwegian state church leadership favors cutting bond between state and Lutheran church

Oslo, Norway - The governing body of the state Church of Norway has voted for the separation of church and state as a step toward ending 469 years of Lutheranism as the Nordic nation's official religion, the church said Wednesday.

In April, the Norwegian government opened a series of hearings on the state church system, seeking input from more than 2,500 congregations, cities and groups on the proposal by Dec. 1.

The general synod, comprised of 11 bishops and 11 diocese councils, voted 63-19 at an annual meeting during the weekend to amend the constitution to drop Lutheranism as the state religion.

The church said new legislation would be needed to transfer powers — including the authority to appoint clergy — from the government to the synod.

"The synod's decision is historic," said Jens Petter Johnsen, director of the Church of Norway national council. "What matters is the relation between church and people, not between church and state."

Even if a majority of other groups and congregations also support the change, it could not be done before 2013 because two consecutive parliaments must each approve constitutional amendments. The government is expected to deliver its state church proposals to parliament in late 2008.

Lutheranism became Norway's official religion in 1537 by royal decree.

Denmark has a similar Lutheran state church, while Sweden ended its state church system on Jan. 1, 2000.