Washington National Cathedral to charge admission. Facing a $26 million earthquake repair bill and years of financial woes, the iconic Washington National Cathedral will start charging visitors in 2014. Adults will be charged $10, and seniors, students, children, veterans and members of the military will be charged $6, cathedral officials announced. Regular worship services and Sundays will remain free of charge. The ticket plan is scheduled for a six-month trial run starting in January. An earthquake in August 2011 damaged the cathedral’s central tower, flying buttresses, decorative finials and intricate stonework. To date, the cathedral has raised $10 million toward its $26 million repair bill. The cathedral has hosted three presidential state funerals—Eisenhower, Reagan and Ford—and six presidential inaugural prayer services, as well as other services to mark important milestones. It is the mother church of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and the unofficial national home of the Episcopal Church. In 2012, the cathedral attracted 400,000 visitors beyond regular worship services.
Atheists challenge IRS over nonprofit finances. Atheists are challenging the Internal Revenue Service’s special exemptions for religious organizations in a federal court in Kentucky, saying churches and other religious groups should follow the same financial rules as other nonprofit groups. If they prevail, it will change the tax-exempt status of churches and other religious organizations, and require the same transparency of donors, salaries and other expenditures that secular nonprofits currently must meet. The case centers on who must file IRS Form 990, an annual reporting statement that provides information on a group’s mission, programs and finances. Current tax law requires tax-exempt organizations except churches and church-related organizations—and a few other organizations whose annual revenues fall below stipulated amounts—to file a Form 990 financial report. By treating religious organizations differently than other organizations, the IRS policy violates the First Amendment and the due process promised under the Fifth Amendment, the suit claims. The suit argues religious organizations receive preferential treatment because they do not have to withhold income tax from compensation to clergy, reveal staff salaries or disclose the names of donors who give more than $5,000.
Pope and Putin talk privately. The Vatican called a much-heralded summit between Pope Francis and Russian President Vladimir Putin “constructive” and “cordial,” even though there was little immediate indication it would lead to further dialogue. The 35-minute closed-door meeting focused on Syria, as expected, an area where Francis and Putin are unexpected allies. A brief Vatican communique on the meeting said the two discussed the need for a diplomatic solution to the bloody conflict there, while also expressing concern for Christians in the war-torn country. Putin also conveyed greetings from Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, a small sign of the continued thaw in the traditionally icy relations between Moscow and the Vatican.