The Cable

Visiting Sweden, the Pope Sure Had a Lot to Say

Who knew the pope had so many thoughts on Swedish life?


Pope Francis visited Sweden this week to kick off the 500th anniversary of the 1517 Protestant Reformation. And what a visit it was.

Teeing up to address whether the Catholic Church will ordain female priests (spoiler: nope), the pope noted that Sweden had a thrice widowed queen. “I thought, ‘This woman is strong,’” he told a reporter, before helpfully continuing: “I was then told ‘Swedish women are very strong, very talented. Perhaps that’s why some Swedish men look for a woman from other nationalities.'”

Perhaps. However, Swedish women may not care about this particular papal point. The country boasts the world’s fourth smallest gap between men and women when it comes to workplace strength and pay, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. Approximately zero percent of women work very long hours, and Sweden offers 480 days of paid parental leave, 90 of which are explicitly for fathers.

The pope also spoke to the country’s stance on refugees, saying he understood Sweden was not cutting down on the number of refugees it allows across its borders “out of egoism.” Countries “must be open to receive [refugees],” he said, “but also do the calculations regarding their reception [capabilities], because one must not only receive a refugee but also integrate them.”

Here, the pope was probably trying to play to his audience. Sweden accepted more refugees per capita than any other European country, but difficulty assimilating so many new people so quickly manifested itself in increased violence. As a result, Sweden’s population quickly turned on the idea of acceptance: In 2015, only 34 percent of Swedes said they wanted their government to take in fewer asylum-seekers; in 2016, that number jumped to 60 percent. And so Stockholm has, to some extent, tightened its borders.

But here, too, the pope may face criticism for the move, as the Swedish government did “within its own camp.”

But, then, a Reformation anniversary is nothing without a few schisms.

Photo credit: Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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