The Jogye Order’s disclosure of the finances of the four largest Buddhist temples in the country will certainly help enhance transparency of religious organizations and overall public confidence in religion.
According to the nation’s largest Buddhist sect’s announcement this week, Bongeunsa Temple in southern Seoul and Jogyesa Temple in central Seoul recorded revenues of 21.09 billion won ($18.3 million) and 20.05 billion won, respectively, last year.
The disclosure of the finances of the major temples — the first of its kind — was made in line with the order’s self-reform measures, which was announced by its head Ven. Jaseung one year ago. The top monk had said at the time that the order would disclose the finances of more than 40 temples whose yearly revenue exceeded 3 billion won by July last year.
Buddhism is Korea’s most popular religion. But it has often been mired in internal factional strife and corruption scandals, which has sometimes resulted in mob-like violence. Like cases in other big organizations, money and hegemony were often involved in those scandals.
It should be admitted that Buddhists lag behind other religious groups like the Roman Catholic Church as far as financial transparency is concerned. Catholic churches in the Seoul Diocese began reporting their financial statements in the Sunday bulletin in 2007.
Many Catholic and Protestant churches now report donations in their weekly bulletins and in 2014, the Catholic Church went on to report to tax authorities donations made by individual churchgoers. Some churches also put their finances to the audit of outside accountants.
There is no denying that financial transparency is essential to make Buddhism more respectable. The Jogye Order should make follow-up actions to disclose the finances of all the major temples and submit them to audits by outside accountants.
The Jogye Order’s disclosure, in the meantime, should help dispel the lingering skepticism in the religious community about the government plan to start taxing clergy incomes in 2018.
Some religious leaders still oppose the plan, arguing that the “spiritual” work of the clergy should be differentiated from simple labor and that taxation of clergy income could be exploited to put religion under government control.
As we have repeatedly emphasized, the argument lacks logic and rationality. All individuals and organizations — regardless of what they do — should be subject to the universal duty of paying taxes as required by the Constitution. The Jogye Order’s action is a good step in that direction.