Me Too accusations reach Catholic priest

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Me Too accusations reach Catholic priest

Me Too allegations of sexual misconduct entered the religious world after a Catholic priest from the Suwon diocese in Gyeonggi was accused of attempting to rape a female volunteer multiple times in 2011 and 2012 during overseas missionary work in South Sudan.

Kim Min-kyung broke a silence of seven years in an interview with KBS News on Friday and accused a priest surnamed Han of attempting to rape her over 11 months while she was volunteering in South Sudan, starting from November 2011.

There were five Korean volunteers there: three priests including Han, who was the most senior, Kim and a nurse. She helped build a school and hospital and drove a truck distributing household goods.

Kim described some incidents with Han in a fragmented way. She said he locked her in a restaurant one event, attempted to rape her forcibly and didn’t allow her to leave the restaurant until 5 a.m. the following morning.

“My body ached so much, it hurt until the next day,” she said. She also recounted what had happened in a diary entry. “I cannot defeat that person with my strength,” she wrote. “Lord, please save me.”

She admitted that another time, Han tried to unlock her bedroom door with what she thought was a pin, breaking in eventually. He told her, “I can’t control my own body. Please understand,” Kim said.

After Han’s initial assault, Kim admitted the situation to the two junior priests, but Han was not reprimanded. One priest remained silent, Kim said, while the other told her to notify the diocese.

She eventually returned home after 11 months, not able to fully complete her one-year mission.

Han began his four-year missionary work in South Sudan in 2008 and returned to Korea to become a respected senior priest of the Catholic Diocese of Suwon. He is also a member of the liberal Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice (CPAJ).

On Feb. 14, Kim asked the Catholic Diocese of Suwon to discipline Han. After her accusations were confirmed, Han was dismissed from all his duties.

Han was said to have admitted to the accusations. He also voluntarily stepped down from the CPAJ.

On Sunday, after Kim’s story went public, Bishop Mathias Ri Iong-hoon of Suwon apologized on behalf of the diocese through a statement and revealed plans for education to prevent sexual violence.

“Firstly, I apologize as bishop for not being able to lead the priesthood well… and apologize for the fact that our sister, the victim, had to live with such deep wounds for all this time, as well as her family and members of our diocese,” said Ri.

Ri acknowledged the recent movement among women in Korea confessing to sexual violence committed against them, adding, “They are confronting the male-dominant way of thinking deeply rooted in our society and showing courage to set right the societal perception of women.”

Han was described by other priests as being an active member of the CPAJ who participated in such activities as supporting workers laid off by Ssangyong Motor in 2009 and the relatives of the victims of the Sewol ferry sinking in 2014, which killed more than 300 people.

The CPAJ also issued an official apology for the acts of their former member on Sunday.

The association said in a statement that Han was “deeply repenting his wretched conduct seven years ago in Sudan.” It added that the priest “asks for forgiveness from the victim for the anguish she has suffered.”

Kim admitted she feared sharing her experience taking into consideration her faith, her worry that it may discredit the hard work of other volunteers and what impact it would have on her family.

“I thought if I just remained silent, everything would be peaceful,” she told KBS.

“I might have carried this to the grave if it weren’t for the Me Too movement,” she admitted. “I thought if I didn’t say something at this point, when everybody recognizes this as a problem, then I would never get a chance to say it again.”

A major reason she went public is her daughter.

“I don’t want my daughter to experience the same thing when she grows up, but, if she does, I don’t want her to stupidly remain silent like I did, but be in a society where she can speak out.”

The police will review opening an investigation into Han after meeting with Kim.

The Me Too movement in Korea gained momentum after a female prosecutor came forward with a story of being groped by a superior and has since spread to the theater industry.

Separately, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said Monday it is looking into an allegation that a ranking member of the Catholic Human Rights Committee sexually harassed a female activist in 2014.

Earlier this month, the female activist surnamed Kim shared over social media that the senior member, who is known to have held a leading role in rights movements domestically, apologized initially for the incident but later told acquaintances that it was by mutual consent.

President Moon Jae-in on Monday expressed “full support” for the Me Too campaign and ordered law enforcement agencies to thoroughly investigate such cases.

“Gender violence is an issue of social structure that allows the powerful to sexually oppress or easily wield violence against the weak,” Moon said in a meeting with aides, according to the Blue House Joint Press Corps. “This won’t be solved by law alone, and is a problem that has to lead to change in the culture and perceptions.”

Moon called for “harsh punishments for men who use their power or status to trample on women in a weaker position than theirs, whatever the form of violence or their relationship is, and whatever the perpetrator’s rank or title may be.” He also called for the government to “come up with a plan to prevent further damages or disadvantages for victims who had the courage to reveal the truth.”

Lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party on the same day convened a panel to discuss how to support victims of sexual assault, including how to prevent secondary damages, as a part of politicians’ “With You” movement in response to the ongoing Me Too campaign.

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