The government will press ahead with the plan to impose taxes on clergy members beginning next year. Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon told lawmakers that the government will implement a revision to tax code that will enable it to levy income taxes of between 6 percent and 38 percent on churches, temples and other religious organizations beginning next year.
Kim said he will meet with leaders of religious groups to minimize confusion and ensure fair taxation.
"The government will take all preparatory steps before implementing taxation on religious groups," Kim said.
He said the National Tax Service (NTS) is establishing the necessary infrastructure for levying taxes on religious figures.
Some religious groups are against the government's move, saying that it would only cause more confusion and conflict.
"We express concern as there is a lack of preparation from the tax authority, and this could cause side effects and confusion," the Communion of Churches in Korea (CCIK) said in a press statement.
It also said that its task force met with government officials, but only confirmed differences on the matter.
Last week, the CCIK welcomed the move by some lawmakers led by Rep. Kim Jin-pyo of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) to postpone the implementation of the controversial taxation for another two years because he said the NTS is not ready for it.
Rep. Kim, head of President Moon Jae-in's de-facto transition team, is leading a group of 23 lawmakers from four political parties to further push back taxation on the churches.
As the public started raising opposition to Rep. Kim's move, stressing that it was against the Korean Constitution, the DPK lawmaker recently said that if this country begins levying taxes on religious practitioners and groups, the NTS should not audit them.
His remarks have further caused public outrage, with 90 percent of those surveyed saying that the country should levy taxes on priests and monks.
The government is looking to reach out to the religious groups through next month and issue guidelines on taxation by October.
The religious community finds itself divided as some groups such as the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) said that clergy figures have to not only serve God, but also they must carry out their social duties by paying taxes.
The issue of taxation first came up in 1968 when then NTS chief Lee Nak-sun officially said the country needed to start collecting income taxes from priests and monks.
But governments continued to hold off on this especially ahead of or during the election season, even despite being the only economy in the OECD to not levy taxes on the clergy.
The issue has gained attention as Korea is becoming a rapidly aging society, while facing a shortage of capital resources to finance its growing social costs.