Maturity and restraint, pleaseA senior priest of a progressive Catholic group has put the fractious Korean society to a test with radical and controversial comments. In a Mass conducted by the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice, Park Chang-shin, senior priest from the Jeonju diocese, demanded that President Park Geun-hye, who was elected in a vote by 30 million people, step down. He also questioned the legitimacy of the Northern Limit Line, a de facto border between the two Koreas in the Yellow Sea, and advocated for North Korea’s attacks on our naval ship Cheonan and inhabited island Yeonpyeong in 2010 that killed 50 Korean soldiers and civilians. His comments are stunning. In a normal society, such extreme comments should be condemned by a unified voice.
Strangely, however, the religious, civilian and political sectors are divided among critics and supporters of the priest. Some from the Buddhist and Christian factions also plan to hold meetings to protest against the government. One Protestant group has demanded the government step down by questioning the legitimacy of the last presidential election because of state agencies’ alleged meddling. Our society and political circle must deal with reckless behavior and rhetoric by extremists with maturity.
President Park has issued a warning, saying she won’t tolerate attempts to disrupt social order. But the radical opinion of a priest should not have necessitated any response from the president. The language of the president represents the state. It must be carefully chosen and articulated to express support for unity. The government should refrain from raising a hoopla over the president’s remarks and rushing to take punitive action against the priest. What is and isn’t reasonable should be decided by public opinion through a healthy debate. If actions are taken against every extreme behavior or comment, matters could get worse. Madness tends to die down if it elicits a cool response.
The political sector also should discreetly respond to the rise of extremism. The society could become even more divided if one takes offense to every issue. The ruling Saenuri Party should not capitalize on the episode to win public favor by attacking opposition forces as anti-government and pro-North Korea. The popularity of anti-North Korea sentiment can help for the time being, but bodes badly for a governing party responsible for the country’s future and its global status.
The main opposition Democratic Party should not be naive enough to believe that some of the extreme religious group’s banner cries could help its fight against the government and ruling party. It could jeopardize its position if it underestimates the legitimacy of an elected president and public sentiment about North Korean belligerence. The DP must instead play its role in a sensible way by correcting and guiding the deviation of some extreme liberals.