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Growing calls for South Korean priests to pay taxes

AFP, Jan 4, 2008

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korean authorities Monday faced growing calls to force religious leaders to pay income tax following TV reports publicising the luxurious lifestyles of some of them.

<< Religious leaders are facing pressure to pay income tax in South Korea

MBC TV last week aired footage showing Christian pastors and Buddhist priests in posh homes, using expensive cars and even trading in temples for profit.

Online messages have since swamped the broadcaster's website demanding religious leaders pay tax.

South Korea imposes no taxes on churches, temples and other religious organisations. A few priests voluntarily pay income tax.

Calls to tax religious leaders have mounted since 1994 when Catholic priests and nuns decided voluntarily to pay income tax, according to the Korea Times Monday.

But the government has so far failed to act on those calls, with some politicians fearful of annoying religious groups.

"We requested the finance and economy ministry to draw up guidelines on taxation of religious leaders last year," said An Hong-Ki of the National Tax Service. "The issue has long been under debate."

Opinions are divided in South Korea.

"Religions should set a clean role model in society," Park Deuk-Hoon, a pastor leading the Christian Alliance for Church Reform, told the Korea Times.

"There should be transparency in their finances and paying a reasonable amount of tax will be a starting point."

But Lee Eok-Joo of the Korean Association of Church Communication told the paper that churches bring much benefit to society and many of the clergymen earn too little to pay taxes.

South Korea has about 10 million Buddhists and 13.7 million Christians, according to the National Statistical Office.

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