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March 14 1994

All bishops, priests and Religious in South Korea will pay income taxes beginning this year, the Catholic Bishop´s Conference of Korea decided at its spring plenary session March 7-10.

It is the first time any of the nation´s religious communities has volunteered to pay income taxes for its members ordained or in vows.

The national media said the move sets a precedent other religious groups, particularly Protestant clergy, will feel pressured to follow.

Under current law, priests, other clergy and monks of any organized religion are exempt from personal income taxes, and churches and temples are exempt from property taxes.

Last year when President Kim Young Sam took office and began an anti-corruption and financial disclosure drive for those in public life, Church leaders joined him in calling for public figures to disclose their assets.

Some Church people, among them Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou Hwan of Seoul, urged religious leaders to follow the example of disclosure.

The Catholic bishops´ conference began discussing income tax in its plenary session last October and referred the issue to dioceses for more discussion.

The vicar generals of all 15 Catholic dioceses met Feb. 2-3 to plan a proposal for the bishops´ spring plenary session. The bishops then decided to pay income taxes, but left each diocese to work out the details individually.

A leading English daily, the Korea Herald, welcomed the bishops´ decision as "a refreshing breeze blowing through the nation´s religious communities."

"The approaching spring is likely to be more balmy and verdant when the breeze can bring about a real wind of reform and renewal," the newspaper´s editorial said March 11.

It said most people still support tax exemptions for religious institutions because of their special moral and cultural service, but for equality´s sake clerics should be subject to taxation of their incomes.

Exempting religious people from taxation is a tradition out of tune with the increasing secularization of contemporary society, the editorial said.