From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Treasury Department Grants PC(USA) a License
04 May 1996 16:08:05
96121 Treasury Department Grants PC(USA) a License
to Send Money to Cuban Presbyterians
by Alexa Smith
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--The U.S. Department of the Treasury has granted the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) a one-year license to transfer up to $137,000
to the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba (PRCC).
The denomination's license is one more step toward opening up channels
for mission dollars to flow to countries where trade is forbidden under the
U.S. government's Trading with the Enemy Act.
Cuba has been off-limits for funding through official channels since
its 1959 revolution -- and violations carry heavy fines and jail time.
"The [U.S.] government, in general, has been more responsive than you
might think," said the PC(USA)'s chief financial officer G.A. "Pat" Goff,
who said the license was approved despite currently strained relations with
Cuba and the recent passage of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity
Act of 1996 (the Helms-Burton bill), which further tightens the U.S.'s
economic embargo on Cuba.
"It's on two levels" Goff said. "They're trying to be tough on
communist countries around the world, and at the same time be making
windows for humanitarian aid." He added that the government is well aware
that some church and humanitarian organizations bypass the restrictions on
Cuba anyway by shipping goods or carrying money through Mexico or Canada
instead of U.S. Customs.
"Our goal is to find room within the existing regulations to do what
we want to do," Goff said.
The denomination first wants to transfer a $14,000 block grant to the
PRCC to be used to fund scholarships for seminarians, summer camp
activities and church publications. Goff said that will begin as soon as
arrangements are made with a bank to transfer the dollars and an internal
process is in place to do so.
The license also allows the transfer of up to $20,000 from Extra
Commitment accounts or other restricted monies for
structural maintenance of church buildings and manses that have
deteriorated for 30
years or more (#867501)
purchase of Christian education materials, such as Bibles,
devotional books and
furnishings for church school classes
development of a pension program for pastors, particularly those
ordained after 1965
(who are not eligible for government benefits and have no
connection with the
PC(USA)'s benefits program)
transportation of pastors, members and prospective members to
seminars, and support of a fledgling family counseling program
program development, faculty salaries and library acquisitions at
Theological Seminary in Matanzas (#862510)
maintenance and repairs for the PRCC's camp (#862532).
The existing accounts combined now hold slightly less than $2,400;
other accounts will be created.
"This is a new opportunity, an historic opportunity ... to share more
directly our concerns, our efforts and our solidarity," the Rev. Carlos
Ham, executive secretary of the PRCC, told the Presbyterian News Service
about acquisition of this first-time license.
Ham says the Cuban church is experiencing enormous growth for the
first time in 30 years -- growth that began five years ago when Cuba's
constitution was neutralized toward Christians to cut back on discrimation
against Christians in education and employment. But the church is
unequipped to cope with its rapid growth and is short on study materials,
publications and, in some cases, adequate facilities.
"Because of the big growth ... we're concerned to teach people what it
means to be Christian, what it means to be Reformed. The religious topic
was taboo for more than 30 years and there is a lot of religious
illiteracy," Ham said, stressing increasing demands for programs and
literature. "We don't want to give just information ... but form people --
enable them to have transformation."
Board of Pensions vice president and general counsel Jean C. Hemphill
sees licensing that allows a U.S. bank to transfer money directly into Cuba
as a breakthrough. Since 1988, the Board has been trying to transfer money
directly to Cuban banks for approximately 30 pastors in Cuba who are cut
off from pensions that began accruing in the U.S. before 1959. PRCC
pastors were once members of the Synod of New Jersey.
So far the government has not licensed the Board to send money
directly to pensioners in Cuba from the U.S., though pension money may be
accessed by family members of Cuban pensioners living in the U.S. Hemphill
says the exchange rate in Canada or Mexico would eat up too much of the
$300 quarterly or $100 monthly the Board is licensed to send Cuban
pensioners -- so the accounts sit. "This opens doors -- indirectly -- that
we've had problems opening so far," she said.
"I really do believe the U.S. government should not be in the business
of licensing churches. There ought to be no U.S. government interest in not
being helpful to Christians in Cuba," said the Rev. Cliff Kirkpatrick,
director of the Worldwide Ministries Division, when asked about the
financial impasse the two churches have faced for nearly 40 years. "...
But I'm delighted we have the license."
Since a license is also required for travel to Cuba, Goff said he has
an "oral commitment" that the Treasury Department will provide the PC(USA)
with a standing license for specified trips for denominational groups and
The denomination has also obtained licensing for Iran. An application
has been sent to the Department of the Treasury for licensing for North
Korea; and the denomination intends to seek licensing for Iraq.
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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