THE Iglesia ni Cristo (INC or Church of Christ) has again won another case—this time in the United States—wherein an expelled church member wanted weekly offerings she previously made as an INC member returned to her after she was removed from the church.
In a decision handed down last week, Virginia Beach Judge Salvador Iaquinto denied a petition filed by Lilibeth Rose against INC minister Steven Inocencio.
The US judge declared Rose’s testimony as “erroneous” after she claimed in court that weekly offering “deposits” she made before her removal should be returned to her “since the expulsion precludes her from continuing in the weekly offering toward what INC members refer to as the Annual Thanksgiving Offering.”
Iaquinto reminded Rose that any church offerings were made voluntarily and “made to honor God.”
The offerings, the court declared, were “also what she would have devoutly agreed to when still a member of the Church of Christ.”
The magistrate then asked Rose if she would be satisfied if Inocencio gave her what she had already set aside, and after she responded no, the judge then remarked that “it seems like you just want to get back at the church.”
INC spokesman Edwil Zabala said the INC’s legal victories “only reinforce what we have said from the beginning, that when the facts and the evidence are weighed by a court of law, we have nothing to fear as these charges will be exposed for what they really are: nuisance cases filed in an attempt to besmirch the reputation of the church and our officials.”
Rose was reported to have been influenced by the “Restore the Church [RTC]” movement, a group composed of former INC members based in the US, which called on existing INC members to stop making offerings to the church.
RTC had campaigned for the filing of a class action suit against the INC and its officials, but the plan did not materialize as Rose was the lone plaintiff in the Virginia court case.
Before the dismissal of the case, RTC boasted in online posts that Rose’s action could lead to RICO (Racketeering, Influenced and Corrupt Organizations), FACTA (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions) and wire fraud convictions against Inocencio and INC leaders.
“We continue to be vindicated by court and prosecutor rulings here and abroad. The DOJ cases filed by disgruntled ex-members were dismissed a month ago for lack of evidence and absence of probable cause. And now we have another legal victory, this new US court decision,” Zabala said.
“Our detractors know they cannot win in a court of law, which is why their only option is to take their baseless and fantastic stories to the media—which, sadly, has provided them an undeserved forum for their empty accusations,” he explained.
Two weeks ago, former INC minister Vincent Florida, an American citizen, alleged irregularities in the handling of offerings made by church members during biweekly worship services.
Florida claimed to have reported the tax fraud irregularities to the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
A statement made by IRS Special Agent Arlette Lee in early December, however, clarified that no tax offense case had been filed against any INC official in any US federal court.
Florida also claimed that the INC owned a private jet for the use of its officials.
When pressed for proof to substantiate his claims about the INC plane, however, he responded by saying, “I cannot attest to that, but that’s what I heard.”
Zabala revealed that they continue to receive reliable reports from members and sympathizers that the campaign against the INC will continue.
“If the desire of our detractors is to bring the church down and sow disunity within our membership, their baseless tirades are actually doing the exact opposite. We count our legal victories as blessings that strengthen our resolve to defend the church from these planned, sustained and well-funded attacks,” the INC spokesman said.