Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Transparency in the Use of Money within Religion

Today as in the beginning and throughout history, we have the continual betrayal of Jesus' message by the messengers. Those who should be an example often are far from that in their words and actions. In recent years what upsets the faithful is the aberrations in sexual and monetary matters both the sinful and the unwise words and actions of those called to be the teachers, and especially the clergy.

Last year there was a gathering of parish priests. At the end of the meeting, a priest asked them to talk about the offering to the bishop during the Confirmation visit to the parishes It was a topic of interest to many at the meeting. Each year, the priests are concerned about how much to offer as a Confirmation gift to the bishop. This issue was the subject of an article in a bulletin for priests.

 Korea has the anti-corruption law which took effect in 2016. The law aims to stop the use of gift-giving to curry favors with those in public office, the media, and education. The drinking and dining at expensive restaurants have certain limits, parents will not be giving gifts to teachers and one has to be careful about how much they give at marriages and funerals, etc. Limits to monetary gifts have been set. This anti-corruption law is called the Kim Young-ran Act.

Among OECD countries, South Korea ranked 29th in the degree of corruption in society out of 35 countries in 2017, showing no change from the previous year. (The higher the number the more corruption) At times it is difficult to determine if a gift is a bribe or a true gift without expectations. Even within the church, the difference between gift and bribe is at times open to question as it was in this article.

In a large diocese a priest who lived a very simple lifestyle and was upright in all he did always gave about 5 dollars as a Mass stipend to the bishop on his pastoral visit for Confirmation. At that time, that was a surprisingly small amount. Most of the parishes would be giving about 300 to 500 hundred dollars.

 After sharing many stories, one priest said with a serious look. According to criminal law against officials, it could be a bribe—If a person has the right to make appointments and there is no transparency in the money received we have the opening to what the Kim Young-ran Act is trying to prevent. The Kim Young-ran Act not only applies to public officials but also strictly applies to civilians even in small amounts.

A bishop in a large city some years ago said that he will not accept any gifts during the pastoral visits to the parishes. Some diocese has set a uniform amount of about 300 dollars. However, there are not a few priests who give more than that. Many poor parishes in the country said they could only give a small amount, and that has been no problem.

One bishop said he turns all the money over to the diocese that would manage the money. Some said they use it for special works in the church. For hundreds of years, few objected to the use of such money, and have taken it for granted, but the changes of the times seem to apply to a new reality.

At the meeting, some said it was advisable to put bishops' gifts into the diocesan budget because this is a time when society is asking for more transparency. On the other hand, others said the Mass stipends have a long history of being used for living expenses in church law, they have no problem with the tradition.

In recent years, there has been a movement within Korea to get rid of the corruption that we have in society. In Buddhism, Protestantism, and Catholicism, monks, pastors, and priests gathered to find ways to get rid of corruption within the religious communities. Many things have to be corrected in the religious world, but the problem of money is the quickest way to corrupt religion. And many agreed that fiscal transparency must be achieved to prevent corruption.

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