Park condemns priest’s remarks

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Park condemns priest’s remarks

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Members of the Korean National Police Veterans Association stage a rally yesterday in front of Myeongdong Cathedral to denounce a Roman Catholic priest’s controversial sermon, which seemed to be supportive of North Korea’s deadly shelling on Yeonpyeong Island. [NEWS1]

President Park Geun-hye yesterday made it clear she would no longer tolerate attempts to disrupt social order, apparently issuing a strong warning to a left-wing priest and referencing his remarks Friday at a Catholic Mass, in which he defended North Korea’s shelling three years ago of Yeonpyeong Island in the West Sea.

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won and the ruling Saenuri Party also condemned the comments made by Park Chang-shin, a senior priest from the Jeonju diocese, in a Mass conducted by the radical Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice.

About 300 people attended the “emergency Mass” held at a cathedral in Gunsan, North Jeolla, where the senior priest condemned President Park and former President Lee Myung-bak over the National Intelligence Service’s alleged online smear campaign during last fall’s presidential campaign. The sermon also touched on several political issues, including the deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in late 2010.

Claiming the disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) was temporarily drawn by the United Nations Command to prevent the South Korean military from invading North Korean territory, Park Chang-shin said North Korea had no choice but to fire rounds at Yeonpyeong Island. Saturday marked the third anniversary of the North Korean attack.

“Recently, both in and out of the country, we have observed acts that only serve to cause confusion and division,” President Park said at a meeting with senior secretaries at the Blue House yesterday morning. “In the future, the government and I will no longer accept or overlook such events, particularly those that lower the confidence of our citizens and seek to cause division.

“Security is not something that can be maintained solely with cutting-edge weapons. What’s much more important is patriotism and unity. But North Korea has gone so far as to threaten to turn the Blue House into a ‘sea of fire,’ and it does not regret the Yeonpyeong Island attack,” President Park continued.

“The reality is that a number of events have undermined the morale of soldiers, who have made tremendous sacrifices to defend the country. [This incident] causes a lot of pain for them.”

She asked the presidential secretaries to follow in her footsteps.

Apparently enraged by Friday’s events, Prime Minister Chung issued much stronger remarks yesterday morning in a separate meeting with high-ranking government officials.

The Mass, he said, was “an act attempting to destroy the Republic of Korea that was in line with its enemies.”

Hwang Woo-yea, chairman of the Saenuri Party, told party executives that “although religion has no borders, men of religion have their own countries.”

He added that Park’s sermon went against the national principle that citizens are morally obligated to defend the country.

Hwang also mentioned that more robust moves protesting last year’s presidential election results have been observed, particularly since North Korea has stepped up its rhetoric against South Korea’s government.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church made efforts to distance itself from last week’s controversy. In a Sunday Mass at Myeong-dong Cathedral, Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, Korea’s Roman Catholic Archbishop of Seoul, reminded the public that the demonstration by the priests’ association did not represent the Catholic Church’s stance.

“Official Catholic discipline bans priests from making direct engagement in political and social affairs,” he said. “Intervening in the political structure or social organizations is not something to be done by ordained members of the church.”

Citing the “duties and guiding principles of priests,” announced by the late Pope John Paul II, Yeom added that a priest’s active role in political and social activities only served to “cause division.” At the same time, he stressed political participation as a right of all laymen. The opposition Democratic Party also distanced itself from the left-wing association’s ideological stance, saying it agreed with the government in that North Korea’s attack of Yeonpyeong Island was an “unacceptable provocation.”

However, the Democrats did not hesitate to use the occasion to condemn the Park administration.

“Basically, President Park and the ruling party were responsible to an extent,” said Jeon Byung-hun, the DP floor leader. Party president Kim Han-gill added: “If politics did its role, religious groups wouldn’t even have to talk about it.”

Some critics have argued that the president and the ruling party’s response was an overreaction. Chin Jung-kwon, a prominent liberal political critic, pointed out that the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice also waged demonstrations calling for the resignations of former Presidents Lee and Roh Moo-hyun.

“What’s happening now is a natural phenomenon in a democratic society,” Chin said on his Twitter account. “But why are [the president, the prime minister and the ruling party president] reacting so sensitively? It’s because the issue is directly related to the legitimacy of the administration.”


BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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