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Religion Notes

"Religion Notes" Continued...

Issue: "Rebel with a cause," Jan. 30, 1998

Questioning infallibility

Influential units of national associations of Catholic theologians are questioning the basis for their church's official teaching on women's ordination. This month the governing board of the College Theology Society (CTS) endorsed the conclusions of a Catholic Theological Society of America task force. The task force questioned whether the church's ban on ordination of women as priests is infallible. Therefore, the issue cannot be seen as finally closed, said CTS president Terence W. Tilley, dean of religious studies at the University of Dayton. He emphasized that neither society directly addressed the issue of whether women can or should be ordained priests.

On auditing: IRS can't, but Scientologists can

The Church of Scientology paid the Internal Revenue Service $12.5 million in a 1993 "closure agreement" that established its tax-exempt status. This revelation, which was among previously undisclosed details of the settlement, was first published by The Wall Street Journal late last month. The agreement ended a struggle that began in 1967, when the IRS ruled that the Los Angeles-based main Scientology church should lose its tax-exempt status because it was a for-profit business that enriched church officials. The church fought back, filing more than 2,000 lawsuits against the IRS. Under the agreement, the Church of Scientology agreed to drop its lawsuits, to stop assisting others in filing suits based on claims prior to Oct. 1, 1993, and to pay $12.5 million to settle any tax assessments prior to 1993. The original amount sought by the agency is unknown, the Journal said. The church also agreed to set up a tax-compliance committee of ranking church officials to monitor its adherence to the settlement and to laws governing tax-exempt organizations. The committee was required to give the IRS annual reports for 1993 through 1995 disclosing how much the church paid its 20 top-compensated officials, as well as revealing the finances of 23 member churches, businesses, and organizations. Failure to file the reports could result in penalties up to $75,000 for each committee member. Also, the IRS can impose as much as $50 million in penalties on certain church entities if the agency finds that they spend funds for non-charitable purposes, including self-enrichment. In return, the IRS agreed to drop its audits of 13 Scientology organizations, including the mother church, the Church of Scientology International. It agreed not to audit the church for any year prior to 1993. It also agreed to grant tax-exempt status to the church and several affiliated units. Liens and levies filed against several Scientology organizations and leaders were dropped. The IRS also agreed to allow Scientology members to count as tax deductions fees paid for what Scientologists say is another form of "auditing." The auditing, or counseling, process uses a device known as an e-meter, which Scientologists say can help identify hangups known as "engrams" inherited from an earlier incarnation. The purging process can take years of auditing, involve several layers of consciousness, and cost many thousands of dollars. IRS officials refused to discuss the settlement, citing confidentiality rules, the Journal said. It quoted a spokesman as saying the IRS granted Scientology tax-exempt status "because the church provided adequate documentation and information" to enable the agency to determine the church had met legal standards and was entitled to tax exemption.

Suspension extended

The 60-day suspension of Pastor Jimmy Creech of Omaha's First United Methodist Church, who performed a same-sex "marriage" ceremony involving two women Sept. 14 (World, Dec. 20, 1997), was extended indefinitely by Nebraska Bishop Joel N. Martinez. The bishop said he acted upon recommendation of an investigative committee of the denomination's regional governing body. Mr. Creech objected, saying the church's pastoral relations committee made clear it wanted him back in the pulpit. Bishop Martinez said more time is needed in light of "continuing volatility" in both First Methodist and throughout the state conference over Mr. Creech's action. He also said committee members need more time to decide whether what Mr. Creech did is a "chargeable offense" under church law. If they decide it is, it could result in a church trial and appeals to the Judicial Council, the denomination's supreme court, according to a United Methodist News Service story. A key issue for that nine-member panel to decide would be whether the Social Principles of the church are enforceable law or simply guidance for conduct and decision making. The church's top legislative body in 1996 decreed that "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." The edict was placed in the Social Principles, part of the church's Book of Discipline.

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