Papal Accountability • Mandatory Vaccines? • Parsonage Tax: News Roundup
This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
Papal Accountability • Mandatory Vaccines? • Parsonage Tax: News Roundup

Papal Accountability

Pope Approves Process of Accountability for Bishops on Sexual Abuse

Pope Francis approved a new system of accountability for the Catholic Church’s bishops who do not properly handle accusations of sexual abuse by clergy, according to National Catholic Reporter. The new system gives the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) the power to judge bishops for “abuse of office when connected to the abuse of minors.” The CDF would also set up tribunals to judge such cases. Though the pope ultimately has power to remove bishops, the Vatican has said the pope will normally respect the judgment of the tribunal on such cases. The move is seen as unprecedented in a system where bishops have long been without a formal system of accountability on clergy sexual abuse of minors.

See our Church Board Guide to a Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Policy to help your church and church leaders set sound policy to prevent child sexual abuse.


Adieu Archbishop

Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt Resigns after Charges over Abuse Scandal

The Roman Catholic archbishop of Minneapolis and St. Paul, John Nienstedt, has resigned his office after repeated calls for him to do so. The archbishop was previously accused of covering up child sexual abuse by a priest within the archdiocese and of his own sexual misconduct with seminarians and other adult men. According to Religion News Service, Nienstedt said he was leaving “to give the Archdiocese a new beginning amidst the many challenges we face,” though he also stated, “I leave with a clear conscience.” The archbishop’s resignation is the latest in a string of moves by the Vatican that demonstrate the Catholic Church’s attempts to hold high-ranking clergy accountable in the abuse crisis. The archdiocese itself was charged with criminal offenses earlier this month, and investigators said other charges—presumably against individuals in the archdiocesan leadership—could yet be filed.


Mandatory Vaccines?

New AMA Policy Favors Ending Nonmedical and Religious Exemptions to Vaccinations

The American Medical Association (AMA) has adopted policies against nonmedical exemptions for vaccines, including religious objections to the medical practice. Though the AMA does not set government policy, it has said it will support efforts to end those exemptions. The Associated Press notes that the AMA “has considerable lobbying clout and its positions tend to influence policymakers.” Church Law & Tax explored the risks and precautions church leaders need to take in our story on churches and the unvaccinated movement published earlier this year.


Abusive Volunteer

Oklahoma Church Volunteer Accused of Child Molestation

A church volunteer child care worker was arrested on charges of lewd and indecent acts against a child, according to The Oklahoman. The 20-year-old male was observed molesting a child by at least two church members. The pastor of the Oklahoma church where the alleged abuse occurred said, “Our church took immediate steps to involve local law enforcement, and we are fully cooperating in this investigation.” The accused man’s bail was set at $100,000.

Answering Church Leaders’ Common Questions about Background Checks” deals with 11 key questions for background screening and provides a comprehensive resources list.


Pastor Swiped Millions?

California Church Claims Pastor Swiped $629,000

A California church says their pastor moved in, took control of all the church's bank accounts and financial records during a building project to remodel the church and add a parking lot, refused to show financial records to anyone, and when he left, they found "virtually nothing had been done" on the building project and a large amount of money missing from their bank account. The church is suing the pastor, Yaahn G. Hunter, along with the church’s parent corporations for knowing of a similar previous incident but not informing the church. Since Hunter’s arrival in 2008, the congregation raised $1,019,000 for the building projects. When Hunter left the church in 2014 to “form a new church,” the congregation found that no work had even been authorized on the projects and that there was “almost nothing remaining in the church’s bank accounts,” according to Courthouse News Service. The church says an audit has yet to reveal the full extent of the embezzlement but that Hunter paid himself or members of his family at least $629,000. The church is suing for $15 million in damages from Hunter and the congregational leadership.

Learn about the importance of internal controls and auditing your finances in Church Finance, a new book coauthored by Richard Hammar and Mike Batts.


Parsonage Tax

Tax Court Orders Parish to Pay Tax on Rectory

The magistrate of an Oregon Tax Court has ruled that one Oregon church has to pay taxes on its priest’s residence. The Catholic Sentinel reports that under Oregon law, religious groups “don’t pay taxes on property used for worship, administrative tasks, education, literary pursuits, benevolent works, charity, entertainment, and recreation.” The court found that the residence (parsonage or rectory) did not fall under that definition. One 2003 article found that requiring churches to pay taxes on rectories and parsonages could amount to an extra cost of $2.3 billion over five years. The church and diocese in question, however, are appealing the ruling, believing it to be in error.

For all things clergy housing allowance, see our tax guide.

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Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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