Christian Science Church To Receive Share of Trusts

A CALIFORNIA judge ruled Wednesday that trusts valued at more than $100 million are to be terminated and the money distributed to The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston, and two other institutions. Distribution of the funds could be delayed, however, if opponents appeal the ruling.

Under the order by Judge Arnold Gold of the California Superior Court in Los Angeles, the Christian Science Church will receive 53 percent of the money, while Stanford University and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will each receive 23.5 percent.

The money is held in two trusts established under the wills of sisters Bella Mabury and Eloise Mabury Knapp. The wills provided that the trust funds were to be distributed to the Christian Science Church after it published a book by Mrs. Knapp's late husband, Bliss Knapp, entitled ``The Destiny of the Mother Church.'' The church published the volume in 1991.

Stanford University and the Los Angeles County museum, the residual beneficiaries, sued to block distribution of the funds, however, claiming that the church had not fulfilled all the terms of the trusts. In October, the three organizations reached a settlement dividing the money.

But the settlement, in turn, was challenged by heirs of the Mabury sisters, who said the division of funds violated the trusts, and by 17 members of the Christian Science Church who contended that the Bliss Knapp book contains incorrect teaching about Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the church, and that its publication, therefore, violated the church's bylaws.

In a two-day hearing, Judge Gold rejected the arguments of the Mabury heirs, and he ruled that the Christian Scientist ``objectors'' did not have standing, or eligibility, to sue the church's Board of Directors.

``We are pleased with the ruling,'' church spokesman Victor Westberg said. ``We feel the desires of the donors have now been fulfilled.''

Mr. Westberg said the funds will be used ``for the promotion and extension of Christian Science,'' as the trusts prescribe.

Gold is expected to enter a written order terminating the trusts within a few days. The parties who challenged the settlement will then have 60 days to file an appeal. The trustees who control the funds may withhold distribution until the appeal period has elapsed or until any appeal has been resolved, according to Brian Pennix, general counsel of The First Church of Christ, Scientist.

Andy Garb, a lawyer for the Christian Science objectors, said his clients would meet after the judge's order is finalized to discuss whether they will file an appeal.

Cindy Cohen, a lawyer for Mabury family members, said her clients probably will appeal the ruling, the Associated Press reports.

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