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Jogye’s deputy president quits after single day

Aug 11,2018
The deputy president of Korea’s largest Buddhist sect resigned Friday after a single day in office, as a schism widens over a scandal-plagued president.

The Venerable Seoljeong, the Jogye Order’s current president, named the Venerable Seongmun his deputy on Thursday so that he could run the order when Seoljeong steps down on Aug. 16 after months of scandal involving allegations of embezzlement, academic forgery and fathering an illegitimate child.

Monks calling for the order’s reform immediately panned the choice, saying Seongmun was in league with corrupt elite monks and is unfit to reform the order as he is in need of reform himself.

“The appointment of Seongmun,” a statement by a civic group calling for the reform of the Jogye Order read, “can only be understood as an attempt to crack down on voices calling for Seoljeong’s resignation and will only magnify the infighting between Seoljeong and former President Jasung, who wants Seoljeong out.”

After those attacks, Seongmun stepped down on Friday after a half-hour talk with Seoljeong at the order’s headquarters next to the Jogye Temple in central Seoul.

Seoljeong announced his intention to resign on Aug. 2 following months of heavy criticism from reformist monks and a public outcry after the broadcaster MBC aired a story on the scandals in May.

Jasung, his immediate predecessor, had endorsed Seoljeong as the organization’s leader in the run up to his election by a body of over 300 monks last October.

He recently turned against Seoljeong, however, and is now pursuing a motion of no-confidence against his successor.

But pro-reform monks say Jasung is just as corrupt.

As president, Jasung was accused of gambling, overseeing fraudulent elections of temple abbots and ordering violent crackdowns on whistleblowers. The pro-reform monks claim Jasung leads a faction of elite monks who want to nullify reform attempts by blaming the organization’s many ills solely on Seoljeong.

The seemingly endless controversy surrounding the organization’s presidency stems from the enormous power concentrated in the post. The order’s president has complete authority over the order’s finances and administrative decisions.

Overseeing about 1,900 active temples and over 13,000 clergy nationwide, the Jogye Order commands the faith of 7.6 million Koreans who identified as Buddhist in the 2015 census. It is also largest landowner in Korea after the government, according to a report by the magazine Sisapress in 2008, though precise details of its finances are unclear.

While Seoljeong’s personal scandals occupied much of the media attention in recent months, allegations of malpractice and internal strife have constantly emerged from within and outside the organization.

The Jogye Order, for its part, responds that these matters will be dealt internally and warns the government not to intervene based on the principle of separation of church and state.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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