In an exclusive interview while on assignment in Norway in June 1991, I was able to obtain more details about the trial of Pastor Ludvig Nessa, the 41-year-old Lutheran priests (as they are called in Norway), who was recently defrocked for speaking out against the permissive abortion laws of his country.  (see The Interim, June 1991)

Seeking contact

Although I didn’t establish contact with Nessa, I had an extended interview with Pastor Tom Haengsle whose parish abuts Nessa’s.

Haengsle indicated that Nessa has appealed the case but hasn’t yet heard whether it will be possible to get another trial in a higher court.  If he is unsuccessful, he’ll be thrown out of house and parish and be faced with an estimated $50,000 worth of legal bills.

Nessa himself has stated that without a job, it will be impossible for him to get a bank loan and he is afraid he will lose his cottage which is where he planned to live.  As Pastor Haengsle put it: “It’s lucky that he is not married and has no children, so that he is freer to take this stand.”  Pastor Haengsle feels that there is little support form Lutherans generally for his friend’s stand on the abortion issue.

“In Norway, because Lutherism is the state Church, the government is the highest authority in the land.  Although much authority has been delegated to the Church, we are in effect ‘married’ to the State,” he said.

Haengsle explained that Nessa asked repeatedly to be tried for errors in teaching, not on grounds of rejecting discipline from his Bishops.  “We like to say in Norway that a pastor cannot be fired unless he is a heretic…But the Bishops refused to try him on grounds that he went against our confession and teaching.  It was more expedient to have the State charge him with infractions of discipline.”


According to Haengsle, the 41-year-old Nessa first spoke out publicly against abortion about eight years ago on May 17, Norway’s National Day.  In his sermon, he stated that it was a day to talk not only about the things Norwegians should be proud of, but also the things that were not so positive.  He cited the current abortion laws as an example of the latter.  At present, Norwegian legislation allows abortion on demand for the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, but after that it is easy to obtain a doctor’s permission to have one performed.  There are 15,000 abortions a year in this country with a population of only 4.2 million people.  Most abortions are done for social and welfare reasons, and as Pastor Haengsle put it, “It is the strongest and most fertile women who have them.”

The day Nessa spoke out, a member of his congregation informed the press, which demanded to know immediately whether Nessa’s Bishop would speak to him about his sermon.

“Many people in Norway don’t like to hear about abortion,” said Haengsle.  “Whoever makes this visible must be silenced.”

As anticipated, the Bishop proved negative about Nessa’s statements, and after that, the press was gunning for him.  There was a lot of tension leading up to the next National Day, when he spoke once more about abortion.

Since then, Nessa has never ceased witnessing against Norway’s abortions.  He has led non-violent demonstrations both inside and outside hospitals in Oslo and other centers, saying prayers and reciting psalms.  Sometimes he is accompanied by Pastor Barre Knudsen, who was convicted of the same ‘insubordination’ in 1983, but who was not defrocked or forced to pay court costs.

Pastor Nessa has also resorted to more dramatic means of bringing attention to the fate of unborn children.  He has affixed small dolls to the crucifix hanging in his church, depicting the anguish of a small child reaching out to Jesus for help.  He has also mailed to both the King or Norway and the President of the Parliament a doll torn into pieces.

“It’s important that those of us who disagree with the Bishops’ actions stand up and say so.  I myself have written about it to the papers,” states Haengsle, who himself substitutes for Nessa on his Sunday off.

“I believe all the Bishops of Norway are against the present abortion laws.  They even tell us that they want another law.  But they don’t want us to disagree in public with the state.

Norwegian citizens

On two occasions I had an opportunity to ask Norwegian citizens about the Nessa case.  The fact that both had heard of him clearly demonstrates the ‘consciousness-raising effect’ of his trial.

The first person I talked to, a secondary school teacher of Norwegian history and philosophy, thought that Nessa was defrocked not for his pro-life activities but because he refused to do his other duties – e.g., baptisms, weddings, etc.  This, Haengsle indicated is contrary to the truth but is the picture given to the public.

On another occasion, I spoke to a retired university professor, who wryly sated, “You have the law of the Church, and you have the law of the State, and the State is always supreme.”

There’s no question that Pastor Nessa’s activities on behalf of Norway’s unborn children have entered the realm of public awareness.  Even some politicians (about 10 per cent of whom Pastor Haengsle estimates as pro-life) are getting involved.