The South Korean government is planning to impose an income tax on pastors, monks and priests for the first time, starting next year, Nikkei Asian Review reports. The South Korean Finance Ministry announced last week that the revised Income Tax Law will take effect in January, and with the change, all employees at religious institutions, including Buddhist monks, Protestant pastors and Catholic priests, will be required to report their income.
“We know that many citizens support this, but we also understand religious groups’ stance, because it is the first time they will experience the tax. We will continue to listen to their opinions, discuss with them and persuade them.” said Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon last week at a media briefing.
This is the first time that the South Korean government will levy income tax on clergy members. According to critics, the change reflects shifting public attitudes toward religious groups. In an August survey conducted by Realmeter, 78.1 percent of respondents supported the government’s tax plan, while only 9 percent opposed it.
South Koreans have become increasingly frustrated with institutions such as temples and churches as they are seen to have accumulated vast amounts of wealth through donations from ordinary people, Nikkei adds.
Recently, the Myungsung Presbyterian Church drew heavy criticism for selecting Kim Ha-na, the son of retired pastor Kim Sam-hwan, as its chief pastor. Second- and third- generation clergy are not uncommon in the country, and the antipathy toward monks and priests has resulted in a tail wind for President Moon Jae-in, who has pressed for a heavier burden to be put on more privileged sections of society.
Despite the change, clergy members will still enjoy many tax privileges compared with other workers, and for instance, the Finance Ministry excluded income they earn for directly related to religious duties from taxation. Since it is up to the institutions themselves to define religious and nonreligious activities, the new tax policy may not raise much revenue, Nikkei writes.