THE Christian Science Church and other parties involved in litigation over bequests valued at more than $100 million announced Tuesday that they had agreed upon a settlement. Under the agreement, the church would receive 53 percent of the assets, which are held in two trusts established by sisters Bella Mabury and Eloise Mabury Knapp. Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and the Los Angeles County Museum would each receive 23.5 percent of the funds.
The parties filed petitions in the Los Angeles Superior Court requesting approval of the settlement, which is subject to two legal challenges. A hearing on the case is scheduled for Dec. 14.
Under the trusts' terms, the funds were to be distributed to The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston, upon publication of ``The Destiny of the Mother Church,'' a book by Bliss Knapp, Mrs. Knapp's husband. It is a collection of reminiscences of Mary Baker Eddy, the Christian Science Church founder, whom Mr. Knapp knew, with reflections by Knapp about Mrs. Eddy's relation to Biblical prophecy.
The church published the book in October 1991 as part of a series of biographical works about Mrs. Eddy, and then applied to the court having jurisdiction over the trusts to have the funds distributed. But the university and museum in December 1991 sued to block distribution. They contended that the church had failed to satisfy all conditions of the trusts regarding the publication and sale of the book. The lawsuit led to the negotiations that culminated in this week's settlement agreement. In a press release, the church said: ``While our counsel felt that The Mother Church should have eventually prevailed through litigation, the cost in money, time, and intrusive legal process made settlement the highest alternative for all parties.''
The church's statement also said that, following distribution of the funds, the money ``will be placed in an account and used for the promotion and extension of Christian Science.''
``We will be looking to see what the opportunities are to wisely, prudently make use of these resources,'' said John Selover, treasurer of The Mother Church, in an interview. He added that the Knapp inheritance was not factored into the church's budget for the fiscal year starting last May 1. That budget called for a balance between expenses and revenues. So far in the fiscal year, expenses have been running ``slightly under budget,'' and revenues ``a bit over budget,'' he said.
A group of 17 Christian Scientists who oppose publication of the Knapp book announced earlier that they will challenge the settlement. The group contends that the book's characterization of Mrs. Eddy is inaccurate, and that its publication by the church therefore breaches The Mother Church's bylaws. The objectors must file their brief by Nov. 16.
A relative of the Knapp sisters also challenges the settlement, claiming that the division of funds violates the trusts.