Christian Science Church Is Solvent, Treasurer Says
In an interview, John Selover responds to a lawsuit charging church officials with mismanaging funds
BOSTON — THE treasurer of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, John Selover, says accusations that the church is ``at the brink of insolvency'' are not true.
In response to a lawsuit against 14 present and previous officers of the church charging them with mismanaging church funds, Mr. Selover said in an interview that the church's income exceeds expenditures; that, in the first seven months of its fiscal year starting last May, the church's spending has been ``nicely but gently below'' the budget; that revenues are ``well ahead'' of budget; and that restricted and unrestricted assets of the church are growing. The church's budget for this year is $64.8 million.
The complainants, who filed their suit last week in Suffolk Superior Court here, alleged in a statement that directors of the church, trustees of The Christian Science Publishing Society, and another officer expended ``hundreds of millions of dollars in church assets on highly speculative, ill-planned and poorly managed media projects that as of last April have left The Mother Church $83 million in debt.''
Selover responds that the church has no external debt and has been paying down internal debts owed between accounts.
``Church officers,'' a summary of the legal complaint states, ``have consistently withheld information from the membership about financial transactions of the church.'' The suit is being brought by a not-for-profit corporation named ``Members for the Manual Inc.'' Also, two members of The Mother Church, Elizabeth Weaver, of Glen Arbor, Mich., a judge for the Michigan Court of Appeals; and Ray Varner, of Silverdale, Wash., a management consultant and writer, are individual plaintiffs.
The group is not connected to another group of Christian Scientists who protested the publication by the church of a controversial book, ``The Destiny of The Mother Church,'' by Bliss Knapp. In their wills, Mr. Knapp's widow, Eloise Mabury Knapp, and her sister, Bella Mabury, left estates now exceeding $100 million to the church if it published the Knapp book under certain conditions. Otherwise the money would go to Stanford University and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Judge Arnold Gold of Los Angeles Superior Court last month approved a settlement between the church, the two institutions, and the trustees of the estates giving the church 53 percent of the estates. The judge did not give standing to the group claiming that the action of the church board in seeking the inheritance was contrary to the church's governing Manual and a Deed of Trust set up by Mrs. Eddy.
Considering possible appeals to the settlement, Mr. Selover says he does not know when the funds would actually be turned over. ``We have not budgeted or planned for that,'' he says.
The new suit is not against the church or its publishing arm. Nor does it seek either civil or punitive damanges from any of the defendants. These are Harvey Wood, Virginia Harris, John Selover, Olga Chaffee, Richard Bergenheim, John Hoagland, Annetta Douglass, Donald Bowersock, J. Anthony Periton, Hallock Davis, Al Carnesciali, Jill Gooding, Harry Schiering, and Honor Ramsay Hill.
Rather, the summary says, the plaintiffs' ``sole purpose is to obtain information from and injunctions against Church officers to prevent further misuse of Church funds - in other words, to align policies and procedures of Church officers with the Manual and Mrs. Eddy's Trusts.''
Information sought includes a full and detailed accounting from May 1988 of spending on media and internal transfers of funds, and of compensation of directors, trustees, and others. Also the complaint seeks an injunction requiring unanimous approval of the Committee on Finance, an internal church group, for all church expenditures. This is already being done, Selover says.
Selover noted that since 1992, the church has made available to its members extensive reports of its financial operations, including the annual report of the church auditors. The church is not required by law, he says, to publish the salaries of its officers, though Mrs. Eddy did spell out a minimum salary in the Manual.
The church has never provided as much information on its finances as at present, he said.