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New Zealand churchgoers hand over cash

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, July 14, 2010) – A Samoan lawyer in New Zealand says a culture of giving money to church ministers in the Samoan community is getting out of hand.

Olinda Woodruffe accuses the clergy in some Pacific Island churches of emotionally blackmailing parishioners into handing over envelopes full of cash at funerals, buying property with church funds and then transferring ownership to family trusts, and using money loaned to the church for their own purposes.

She says when these issues have been raised at church meetings, the mainly Pakeha or European leadership has not wanted to deal with it for fear of being labeled culturally insensitive.

But Ms Woodruffe says, the practice is not part of pacific culture, and has to be stopped.

"The concern that I've raised is the lack of accountability of church ministers and the lack of transparency in what they do resulting in the poorness of many people that I see; resulting in people losing their home; resulting in the children going hungry and having health issues that are not being attended to," she said.

Woodruffe said Samoa is the worst among Pacific island communities in New Zealand in demanding money, particularly at funerals where people are vulnerable.

"When somebody dies, they (church ministers) ring up all their mates to come to the funeral service. They control the funeral service, they read, you can get up to ten minutes just reading bits of the bible, making half a prayer. Then they all line up at the wake, after the burial and each receive an envelope full of money."

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