An appeal by Jussi Lepaniemi, district pastor of Savonlinna Parish, Rantasalmi, who was fired from his priestly position, to the Administrative Court of Eastern Finland has been successful.
In its Tuesday decision, the Administrative Court overturned the decision of the Mikkeli Diocese Judicial Chapter to dismiss Lepaniemi from his position.
The reason for the dismissal was Lepaniemi’s many frequent sick leaves and the uncertainty of his ability to work when the sick leave expired.
Lepaniemi told Ilta-Sanom about her illness last November. He said he fell ill with work burnout and subsequent depression after working long hours as the sole priest without holidays and days off in both the Rantasalmi congregation and the chapel congregation.
Lepaniemi was the last pastor of the independent Rantsalmi parish. In early 2016, the parish was attached to Savonlinna and he became the regional pastor of the chapel congregation.
Read more: Congregation fires priest while on sick leave – big row over firing sparks bishop
Tuomiokapituli sacked Leppäniemi in June 2022 in the middle of his sick leave. At the time, he had been on multiple sick leave for nearly two consecutive years. The last period of sick leave was recorded as having expired at the end of August, three months after the dismissal.
To the court, the Judicial Chapter justified the dismissal on the grounds that Lepaniemi’s ability to work had been so severely impaired by the illness and by the length of time that the parish could not reasonably be expected to continue his employment. Could have
Lepeniemi and the doctors who treated him had different opinions. According to the occupational health doctor, the return to work could be done with the help of a work trial. According to the specialist in psychiatry who treated Lepaniemi throughout his illness, he was able to fully work at the end of his sick leave.
During the period of dismissal, Lepeniemi returned to his post for a few months.
Among other things, this and the new report submitted by Lepaniemi convinced the court that immediately after his dismissal and at the time of his dismissal, he was capable of performing the duties of a clergyman. Thus, the judicial chapter had no substantive authority to terminate its employment.
The dismissal of Lepaniemi caused serious controversy in the administration of Savonlinna parish. Some members of the Church Council felt that they had been misled in preparing the case and that the wrongful dismissal should be reversed. He raised Pastor Sammeli Juntunen to the tip of the pole.
A complaint was also made to the judicial chapter about Juntunen’s behaviour, but the vicar was exempted from it; No action was taken on the complaint.
Lepeniemi received the decision of the Administrative Court with great gratitude.
Of course, I am grateful that I have got justice in a case where I felt I was in the right, but I was treated unfairly. This process has been difficult, but I have received a lot of support from people during this time. I don’t know that I would have managed without it.
Since the beginning of March, Lepaniemi has been a temporary priest at Varkaus Parish. The posts will be permanent from the beginning of June.
– I enjoy my work and have a good time in my new work community. However, I cannot say yet how the decision of the Administrative Court will affect my future. I don’t know the law. I have left my trade union lawyer to handle that part of the matter.
He could not yet comment on Tuesday’s Administrative Court decision, as the decision had not yet reached him. According to legal evaluator Jiri Klemola, a decision on further possible actions will be taken only after studying the judgment.
Savonlinna’s vicar Sammelli Juntunen urged the judicial chapter to inquire about further course of action.
– You will have to ask the court chapter about this. There he fired.
Juntunen also did not speculate on what the decision would mean for the congregation.
– I can’t say anything about it. Then I think he (Lepaniemi) should be hired, Juntunen admitted.