Last time I met Bishop Anders Arborelius, we were toasting the canonisation of Mother Elisabeth Hesselblad, the Bridgetine nun who brought the order back to Sweden in the 19th century after its suppression following the Reformation. When I meet him now, he is preparing to receive the red hat at a consistory of cardinals in Rome on June 28.

When he was appointed Bishop of Stockholm in 1998, the Carmelite priest became the first ethnic Swedish bishop since the Reformation. This month he will become the first cardinal in Swedish history.

He tells me that his appointment as cardinal is significant not only for him, but for all Swedish Catholics, who are a tiny minority in the largely Lutheran country. It’s special “because we are not used to cardinals in our part of the world, and people think it is very thrilling and somehow it shows that the Holy Father is interested in us.” He says it’s as if Pope Francis was telling Swedish Catholics that “you are also important in a secular, pluralistic country as a minority”.

We speak about the possibility of a Swedish Lutheran ordinariate. As readers will know, in 2009 Benedict XVI set up a personal ordinariate for Anglicans. But Bishop Arborelius thinks it would be difficult to set up a similar structure in Sweden for Lutherans. “There are no entire parishes,” he points out. “There are some people who are interested to convert, and every year there are some. But I don’t think there are enough people to form an ordinariate.”

Furthermore, he is wary of a “double jurisdiction”, with the ordinariate running alongside the Diocese of Stockholm (the country’s only Catholic diocese). He notes that when a large group of Lutherans from the Berget retreat house in Rättvik converted, they were content to be received into the ordinary Catholic Church in Sweden.

There is no official dialogue between the Lutheran Church and the Swedish Catholic Church. But there is a lot of cooperation through the Christian Council of Sweden, and the bishop believes this form of ecumenism can at times be more fruitful than the bilateral type. While there are many local initiatives – for example, in Lund, “where they have common Vespers, once in the Lutheran cathedral, once in the Catholic church” – the diverse views found within the Lutheran Church can make dialogue on dogmatic or ethical questions difficult. Bishop Arborelius says he’d not be against starting such discussions, but he also sees great benefits from “spiritual ecumenism”, where people come together for prayer.

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