Crime of the Priests

Country/area: Finland

Organisation: Helsingin Sanomat HS.fi

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 23 Aug 2020

Credit: Tuomo Pietiläinen, Petri Salmén, Ella Kiviniemi, Joonas Laitinen

Project description:

The article revealed types and mounts of crimes the priests of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland have committed. We found out more than 80 percent of the crimes and convictions haven’t been addressed in church cathedral chapters, although all acts should be evaluated by the church’s disciplinary machinery. If the church became aware of the priest’s criminal conviction, the case was downplayed and often had no consequences. The results were displayed with s a search engine, including a description of each final judgment, a description of the act, the verdict, and the conclusions made by the church’s cathedral chapter. 

Impact reached:

The results of the survey came as a big surprise to the leadership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as well as the judiciary. This was the first time this kind of investigation has been done in Finland. Surprised by the number of priests’ crimes, Archbishop Tapio Luoma of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland urged priests and church lecturers (female priests) convicted of crimes to contact the bishop and cathedral chapter of their own diocese. These were about 60 priests or church lecturers whose crimes have not come to the attention of the church or the handling of the cathedral chapters. The National Courts Administration Finland, which oversees the work of the courts, began to investigate why information about priests’ convictions does not always go to the cathedral chapter. Some of the church’s cathedral chapters acknowledged the shortcomings and began to trace priests convicted of a crime whose crimes had not ended up for investigation by the church priests’ quality control body (court chapter). For example, the cathedral chapter of the Diocese of Helsinki traced fifteen criminal convictions of ten priests, all of which are to be dealt with in the cathedral chapter assessing the suitability of priests.

Techniques/technologies used:

Information requests, court files, Excel, OCR. 

What was the hardest part of this project?

The whole project was laborious and took about two months. The biggest problem was that journalists do not have direct access to the criminal record in Finland. Instead, we asked information about the charges, which are public. But the charge is not a verdict. Therefore, the judgments had to be requested individually from each district court and had to be followed by a final judgment to the Court of Appeal and possibly the Supreme Court. Ordering judgments, tracking orders, and unloading judgments in Excel took a lot of time.

What can others learn from this project?

The project showed that despite the great investigation, it is possible to investigate the crime of one group of decision-makers – in this case priests – by working in a disciplined manner and devoting enough time to requests for information, deciphering results, analyzing and creating an interesting story around research results. 

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