A worrisome deviation

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A worrisome deviation

Religious leaders often go way beyond the bounds of their profession. Some members of the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice in Korea have fueled an ongoing political battle. In a politically motivated Mass, the priests denounced state agencies’ alleged meddling in last year’s presidential election and urged President Park Geun-hye to step down. On North Korea’s 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, a priest even said, “What if the Korea-U.S. joint military drills continue on an island near the controversial Northern Limit Line? What should North Korea do? They should shoot. And that was the shelling on Yeonpyeong Island.”

That sounds like an assertion that North Korea rightfully counterattacked the South as we would do if Japan conducted a drill around the Dokdo islets in the East Sea. The priest’s remarks suggest an approval of the North’s bombardment of the islands and our illegitimate occupation of them. We are dumbfounded at this distorted perspective on the North’s reckless provocation. Can our Catholic priests express such a skewed view just a day before the third anniversary (Nov. 23) of the tragedy?

They have never blamed the regime in Pyongyang for its inexorable human rights abuses. Their ideological inclination can be understood by the stunning remarks of a priest who expressed regret for the 1994 death of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung on a visit to his tomb in Pyongyang.

The priests’ group also demanded that President Park resign over the National Intelligence Service’s online campaigns for her in last year’s presidential election. State agencies’ alleged intervention in the election is undergoing judicial review. Punishment of those involved will be made depending on the court’s judgment. The priests’ plea for the president’s resignation is not only wrong but a dereliction of their duty as clergymen. Even the DP now is attempting to draw a line between its once-sympathetic position and the priests’ radical departure.

Despite the Catholic Church’s ban on priests’ political engagement, some members of the association openly violate the decree, not to mention the Constitution, which upholds the separation of church and state. Priests are spiritual leaders for ordinary Catholics. Given their influence on their followers, they should propagate a message of love and peace at the center of a discord-ridden society.

Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, the archbishop of Seoul, warned of the possibility of a religious division in the Catholic Church due to the priests’ proactive participation in politics. The priests’ group must listen to such warnings.

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