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Christian Science bequest settlement case is due in court

STANFORD -- A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 14, in Los Angeles Superior Court on a proposed settlement agreement that would give Stanford approximately $23.5 million from the estates of two Christian Science Church members.

If approved by Judge Arnold H. Gold, Stanford and Museum Associates (the support group for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) would each receive 23.5 percent from the trusts of Bella Mabury and her sister Eloise Mabury Knapp, with the remaining 53 percent going to the Christian Science Church. The estates currently are valued at about $100 million.

In November, eight distant relatives of Bella Mabury and 18 members of the church filed objections to the settlement.

The relatives said that settlement of the litigation would violate a no-contest clause found in the Mabury will. They also said the agreement would amount to "premature termination" of the Mabury trust, and would violate the intent of Mabury's will. They want the Mabury trust for themselves.

The church members contend that the church should not receive any portion of either trust. In their filing, they said the settlement would perpetuate a violation of church by-laws and an 1898 deed of trust between the Mother Church and the Christian Science Publishing Society.

At issue is an instruction in the trusts that the church publish as "authorized literature" a book by Eloise Knapp's late husband, Bliss, called The Destiny of the Mother Church. Many church members oppose the book, which essentially elevates church founder Mary Baker Eddy to a deity.

Citing a 1948 letter from their board to Bliss Knapp, the 18 church members contend that the book is not correct Christian Science literature. Church rules prohibit members from "selling or circulating as Christian Science literature material which is not correct in its depiction of Christian Science as taught by Mary Baker Eddy," the members said in their filing.

In a joint response to the heirs, the university, Museum Associates, the church, and Knapp and Mabury trustees said that the no-contest clause is not included in the trust. Even if it were included, the settlement would not violate the clause, they said. Furthermore, the proposed settlement does not violate Mabury's intent, and would not constitute an early termination of the trust.

Regarding the church members' objection, the university and other parties said in court documents that California law does not allow them to substitute members for the established hierarchy of a church. They also said that the church lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate doctrinal disputes between a church and its members.



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