1996-11-20 00:00:00

With religious cult scandals making headlines recently, the government organized a first-ever forum with religious leaders and scholars to discuss the role and regulation of religion in Taiwan.

About 110 senior government officials, scholars and leaders from 12 religious communities gathered in Taipei to attend the Nov. 8 "Religion and Society Forum" organized by the Executive Yuan (assembly).

Bishop Paul Shan Kuo-hsi of Kaohsiung, president of Taiwan´s Catholic bishops´ conference, attended the forum with nine other bishops and clergy.

Bishop Shan told UCA News here in southern Taiwan on Nov. 9 that the Catholic Church opposes the enactment of laws to regulate religions, a move endorsed by some religious leaders at the forum.

"We think that religion is a spiritual matter which cannot be controlled by law. The most important thing is self-discipline," the bishop said.

Illegal activities disguised as religion can be checked by existing laws, he maintained, while religion laws could violate the freedom of religion.

The forum blamed people´s spiritual emptiness, greed and ignorance for thriving cult swindling in Taiwan, which became a focus of national attention in October after one cult figure admitted to massive deception.

Sung Chi-li was arrested on Oct. 13 for allegedly swindling NT$3 billion (US$109 million) from followers in Taiwan and 400,000 renminbi (US$48,192) from 20,000 followers in mainland China.

He admitted to cheating followers through the Sung Chi-li Miracle Society he founded and that his claims of possessing supernatural powers were fraudulent.

Self-claimed Master Miao Tien, another cult leader, was accused of cheating his followers out of more than NT$2 billion by selling space in illegally built pagodas and temples throughout Taiwan that would supposedly protect the owners´ ancestors and their health and happiness.

These sensational cases are believed to be only the tip of an iceberg.

At the forum, Vice President and Premier Lien Chan urged the public to undergo spiritual reform and foster positive social ethics.

He stressed the government´s determination to crack down on swindlers defrauding people in the name of religion, but was reserved about the enactment of religion laws.

Buddhist Master Hsing Yun, the head of the Chinese Fokuang Association, supported the enactment of laws to ban illegal religious groups and activities and protect the lawful religions.

He also suggested that university curriculums could include education in how to distinguish superstition from true religion.

Protestant representative Kuo Che also regarded religion laws as necessary and suggested that responsibility for religious affairs be delegated to government officials of more senior rank than is currently the case.


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