Priest being painted as “pro-North” after criticizing the government

Posted on : 2013-11-25 15:31 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Jeonju diocese priest argues that administration is trying to turn N. Korea into an enemy and control citizens with “pro-North” allegations
 Nov. 22. (by Kim Bong-gyu
Nov. 22. (by Kim Bong-gyu

By Park Im-geun, North Jeolla correspondent

The Jeonju diocese of the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice (CPAJ) is opting to remain quiet after veteran priest Park Chang-shin touched off a recent furor with remarks about the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the West (Yellow) Sea during an “special mass” on Nov. 22. The diocese’s concern is that any response to the controversy might leave it vulnerable to charges of being “pro-North Korea,” while the purpose of the mass - to urge President Park Geun-hye to resign - ends up forgotten.

Speaking to the Hankyoreh on Nov. 24, the diocese’s CPAJ head, Father Song Nyeon-hong, 46, was adamant about not responding to the outcry.

“Things always end up heading in an odd direction when you respond to media reporters,” Song said. “We have nothing to say, except that the President should resign. If we respond, they’ll just continue painting us as ‘pro-North Korea,’ and our original message, that the President should resign, will end up buried.”

Park spoke for around 26 minutes at the mass, organized by CPAJ’s Jeonju diocese at Susongdong Cathedral in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province, on Nov. 22. The remarks that set off the controversy came during the final three minutes.

At the end of his talk, Park said that former President Lee Myung-bak should “assume responsibility” for the election improprieties that have called the legitimacy of President Park Geun-hye’s election victory into question, and that Park herself was “not really the President.”

In referring to the election improprieties, the veteran priest claimed that the North Korea threat was being manipulated for election purposes, saying the administration “needs to turn North Korea into an enemy so it can attack the public with the ‘pro-North’ issue.”

He defended his remarks in a phone interview with the Hankyoreh on Nov. 24.

“They’re ignoring the rest of the speech and trying to paint me as ‘pro-North,’” he said. “I served in the military. I’m a citizen of this country. I want the Republic of Korea to be a good country, a country where we work together and prosper.”

“Progressives and conservatives need to coexist,” he added. “We need a world of sharing, where the conservatives take power when the economy is suffering and the progressives take power when poor people are suffering.”

Park described the NLL, which separates North and South Korea in the West Sea, as a “disputed region and the site of hostilities.”

“It provokes North Korea when we hold training in such a place,” he said. “Dokdo belongs to Korea, and if Japan were to do military drills there, we would have to fire at them.”

Park added that he made his controversial remarks “because the administration, in my view, is trying to make North Korea into an enemy.”

“Under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, North and South tried to interact with each other,” he added. “That kind of inter-Korean exchange and cooperation should have been carried on by the next presidents [Lee and Park], but instead they turned North Korea completely into an enemy.”

“I was talking about the process of creating an enemy,” Park explained. “They [the people in power] are making people in the labor and farmers’ movements into enemies, accusing them of making similar claims to North Korea. And that is not right.”

Jeon Jun-hyung, general secretary for CPAJ’s Jeonju diocese, said the sermon at the mass was “Father Park’s personal statement of conscience” and that “nothing else had been decided for it.”

“The remarks that caused the controversy came when he was giving the example of the administration using accusations of allegiance to North Korea for the sake of elections,” he added. “You need to look at the thrust of the whole talk.”

Kim Young-jin, 49, was one of the members of the public who listened to Park’s talk. “The gist of it, as I understood it, as that you shouldn’t stir up the threat of war with joint South Korea-US military exercises,” Kim said. “He was saying that neither side, North or South, should be doing things that might start a war, and he gave the example of the administration using the division of the Korean peninsula for political ends.”

“North Korea should not have shelled Yeonpyeong Island,” he continued. “It deserves to be criticized for doing that. He [Park] was making a point about people exploiting this division for elections.”

Park Jae-man, who heads Bright People of Gunsan, a Facebook site for information about Gunsan, said the remarks came “while he was telling a true story.”

“If you oppose the administration’s policies, they call you ‘pro-North,’” he said. “Father Park used the NLL issue as an example. He was trying to say what a sad thing it is when people are painted as pro-North because they speak for workers and farmers.”

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese reported its archbishop, Andrew Yeom, criticizing the political activity during a talk at a mass to mark the end of the Year of Faith at Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul at noon on Nov. 24.

“It is something of an obligation for ordinary Christians to participate in politics, but it is a mistake for priests to participate directly,” he was quoted as saying.

Father Park was a leading priest in South Korea‘s democratization movement among farmers and citizens in the North Jeolla Province area in the 1970s and 80s. Park was ordained in 1973 and retired last year after 39 years of service.

Shortly after the Gwangju in June 1980, Park was a priest at Yeosan Cathedral in North Jeolla Province. In a sermon he talked about the truth of the Gwangju Democratization Movement and was later attacked by five assailants late at night at his residence. He was beaten and stabbed with metal pipes and walks with a limp to this day with the help of a cane.


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