By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

STOCKHOLM, October 26, 2009 ( – Representatives of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in Sweden are joining conservative Lutherans in denouncing the recent decision by the Lutheran Church of Sweden to conduct homosexual “marriage” ceremonies, reports the Catholic News Agency.

In a joint statement Catholic and Orthodox church officials expressed “sadness” upon learning “about the decision by the synod of the Church of Sweden,” which is the largest religious organization in the country.

“In our churches and communities, we will not unite homosexual couples since it is in complete contradiction with the tradition of the church and our vision of creation,” the statement added. It also stated that the decision “is a swing away not only from Christian tradition but also from the point of view on the nature of marriage which is typical of all religions.”

They noted that although dialogue with the Lutherans would continue, “this decision of the Church of Sweden widens the gap.”

The views of the Catholic and Orthodox representatives were echoed by more conservative Lutherans, such as Bishop Hans Stiglund, a northern prelate.

“In my way of looking at it marriage is defined as a relation between man and woman with no room for a relation between partners of the same sex,” he said. 

Three out of four Swedes are members of the Lutheran Church.  The decision to permit homosexual “marriages” was made by representatives affiliated with the nation's political parties, who are elected to a national assembly.  It was approved by a vote of 176-62 with 11 absences.

Although Church officials have been “blessing” unions between homosexuals for years, the new decision allows them to call the union a “marriage.”  Ministers who object in conscience will not be required to carry out the ceremony.

Andrew Brown of the liberal Guardian newspaper expressed reservations about the decision, noting that the Swedish church has now gone beyond the bounds of even the ultraliberal Anglican Church.

“Outside the Swedish church, this decision is bound to lead to strain ecumenically,” wrote Brown in a recent editorial. “The Swedish Lutheran church shares its priesthood in theory with the Church of England, for instance. But no English priest would be permitted to marry a gay couple and few would want to. They are not even allowed to have services of blessing. And, as the details of the story emerge, it will come to seem an object lesson in how not to disestablish.”

While the leader of the Swedish Lutheran Church, Archbishop Anders Wejryd, supported the decision, even he seemed uneasy about it.

“For my part, the right decision was taken, but I can empathize with the many who believe this has gone too fast,” he said in a press conference.