On May 11 the Swedish local newspaper Smålandsposten published an article with the title ”Catholic Church denied bell ringing – could annoy local residents”. In the article Ingvar Fogelqvist, vicar in the local Catholic parish in Växjö, stated that the local municipality denied the church's request to use church bells as it would risk disturbing a local residential area.
The article was published as Växjö’s local mosque’s application to broadcast calls to prayer on Fridays was approved.
The article in Smålandsposten, however, failed to disclose the fact that the Catholic parish’s request to use their church bells was supposedly denied ”10-15 years ago” – thereby eliminating any connection to the mosque’s application being approved today.
On Friday, the local radio station P4 Kronoberg revealed that there was in fact no formal application from the Catholic Church. Neither Växjö municipality nor the local police authorities could find any traces of the alleged request.
”We received information that this application might not exist, and decided to look into it. We called the municipality which investigated the alleged application and checked with the building authorities. They also asked the local public health committee. The national police authorities also looked into all the applications since 1996,” reporter Jonatan Bergman at P4 Kronoberg told DN.
Father Ingvar Fogelqvist explained that the parish might not have made a formal request to use church bells. Instead he says they were verbally advised against submitting an application, in a meeting in 1993.
”The vicar called us after we published the article, and told us that they were advised against ringing the bells at a meeting about the church’s building permit 25 years ago. The previous vicar Paul Redmond heard the statement. But it’s not the same thing. He and others in the church feel bad about the situation. He is a nice guy, and now he feels stupid as this was not his intention.” Per Brolléus, another reporter at P4 Kronoberg, told DN.
The initial article about the denial of the application quickly gained international attention. Swedish media outlets published articles based on the initial information. Swedish newspaper Expressen published an article with the headline ”The mosque is allowed calls to prayer – but the church isn’t”. Other Swedish news outlets published similar articles. The article was also spread by a number of websites that are critical of immigration, as well as several smaller blogs. Most of the articles did not declare that the alleged request was supposed to have been submitted between 10 and 15 years ago.
The articles that connected the Catholic parish’s denied request to the approval of Växjö’s Islamic call to prayer have had 77.000 interactions on Facebook, according to DN’s review. The articles have also been spread by a number of large Facebook groups, where users voiced strong opinions:
”The idiots are taking over all the time. Vote SD 2018 so we can get rid of this shit. period.” ”The government forgot what democracy is!!!!!” ”Disgusting smug left wing feminists”, are some of the comments. ¨
The article also gained international attention. The American website Catholic News Agency wrote that Saint Mikael’s parish was denied the use of church bells ”both in the 1990’s and in the 2000’s”. When the anonymous Dutch site Voice of Europe shared an article about the topic it received more than 10.000 interactions. Their article was spread in a subforum of Reddit where users share positive news about Donald Trump. The Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik published an article about the topic, captioned ”Swedish City Allows 110 DB Muslim Prayer Calls, Rejects Church Clock Ringing”.
After the new information was published by P4 Kronoberg, only a few other media outlets updated their original articles. Expressen published a new article stating that the initial information was false. That article received only 392 interactions in social media, compared to the initial article which had more than 32.000 interactions.
DN called Father Ingvar Fogelqvist at the Catholic parish to ask him what the Church think about the fact that the rumour generated so much hate.
”We are sorry about that, but we didn’t prompt it. We received a question from a newspaper and told them what we remembered, which was that the reason that we were not allowed to use our bells was that the municipality was negative about it. And then we found out that there was no formal denial. We were advised against the use, which has had the same effect since we don’t have any church bells,” Ingvar Fogelqvist said.
He also said that there has been a tradition in the parish, where people have believed it impossible to have church bells because of the denied request.
”But as that is not true there seems that we have a possibility. So we will be submitting a new application in the future,” he said.
Smålandsposten’s editor-in-chief, Magnus Karlsson, regretted the initial article.
”I am disappointed that we published the article without enough evidence. But initially we didn’t have reason to distrust the information we received from the priest. We have followed up the article. But, as P4 realised, there is no formal decision. The Catholic Church had an overall picture of being advised against submitting an application,” he said.
DN has contacted staff at Växjö’s city planning office.
Smålandsposten published an updated version of their article on May 22, after Dagens Nyheter's original story, where they interviewed Paul Redmond, vicar in Växjö between 1985 and 1994 and where he confirms the rumors about a meeting in 1993.
”We had a meeting with the municipality in 1993 that I attended. There was a wish from the municipaly that we remove the bell tower from the plan as several neighbors had heard about it and said that they would be disturbed by the ringing. We were encouraged by the officials to wait a few years until the neighbors had moved, perhaps it would be easier then.”
This is a fact-checking article from Dagens Nyheter. Read more about how we work with fact-checking here.