Pastor Toni Fagerholm is likely to avoid repercussions for blessing a lesbian couple during the Helsinki Pride event on Saturday, suggests Heikki Hämäläinen, a notary at the Diocese of Helsinki.
“He in advance provided the chapter with the format he planned to use. It shows that the event falls within the guidelines of a prayer service drawn up by the bishops' conference,” Hämäläinen explains.
Hämäläinen also says that he has discussed the incident with Fagerholm. “Of course, you can debate how close the service came to the limits of a prayer service, but I'd say that it didn't clearly breach them either,” Hämäläinen says.
The chapter consequently views that Fagerholm did not bless the same-sex couple but rather prayed with them.
In contrast, Fagerholm has repeatedly told Helsingin Sanomat that he blessed the same-sex partnership in an attempt to demonstrate that “most pastors are not against homosexuality”.
The definition of a prayer service remains subject to varying interpretations due to the reluctance of the bishops' conference to prescribe its content more specifically. “There's no official format for blessing a partnership, but the event is informal,” says Pauli Juusela, a communications director at the parish union of Vantaa.
Although the couple in question exchanged rings, received a blessing from the pastor and stepped down from the altar while the Bridal Chorus was playing, Hämäläinen insists that the service did not include certain blessings key to a wedding ceremony.
“In the blessing ceremony, pastors must actively take part in the exchange of rings. Their duties also include blessing the rings and asking questions related to the wedding service. As far as we know, these weren't part of the service on Saturday,” Hämäläinen highlights.
Tiia-Maria Juuso – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
© HELSINGIN SANOMAT
Photo: Benjamin Suomela / HS