Thursday, August 28, 2008

Korean Catholic Priest, Samsung and Sabbatical

Seoul archdiocese has acted to quell a controversy in the media by saying that sabbatical leave given to a priest who exposed tax evasion by Samsung executives is not a punishment.

"It is not a reprimand. A sabbatical year should not be considered a reprimand," said Father Matthias Hur Yeong-yup, public relations director of Seoul archdiocese. He addressed the matter in an interview with Seoul archdiocese's Pyeonghwa (peace) Radio on Aug. 22 after local media interpreted Father Simon Chun Jong-hun's sabbatical leave as punishment for causing grief to Samsung, the country's largest conglomerate.

Media speculation came soon after Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul made public the routine transfer of 117 priests in his archdiocese on Aug. 21. Among them was Father Chun, given a sabbatical year effective Sept. 1. Father Chun is president of the Catholic Priests' Association for Justice (CPAJ), an association not endorsed by the local Church hierarchy. Media reported that the priest's other involvements in social issues, such as protests against U.S. beef imports, had also made him unpopular with the Church hierarchy.

When contacted, Father Hur declined to comment but referred UCA News to his interview with Pyeonghwa. In that interview he said: "It is just a guess that CPAJ's activities led to Father Chun's sabbatical year. Were he being reprimanded, he would have been suspended."

Media pointed out that a parish priest is normally transferred every 4-5 years but that Father Chun was parish priest of Suraksan Church only since February 2007. Father Hur countered in the interview, "This regulation has exceptions, and some parish priests have been transferred even after six months." He stressed that the right to transfer priests belongs exclusively to the local bishop.

As to whether Father Chun himself applied for the sabbatical year, Father Hur said he did not have the information. "I am not in the position to know that. But I believe that the decision was drawn from his meeting with Cardinal Cheong."

He explained that the archbishop customarily meets priests he intends to transfer two or three months earlier, and listens to their opinion. In Seoul, a parish priest can apply for a sabbatical year after 10 years, he added.

UCA News contacted several priests from the CPAJ including Father Chun, who was not available, but most refused to comment.

However, one of the priests, who asked not to be named, told UCA News on Aug. 22 that the cardinal had "asked" Father Chun to go abroad to take care of Korean Catholics and that the CPAJ president had "refused" this assignment. After that, Father Chun was ordered to take a sabbatical year, he said, describing the cardinal's order as "unfair."

The previous day, OhmyNews, an online newspaper, cited Father Chun as saying: "I have a sabbatical year that I do not want. The right to transfer me belongs to the archbishop. I take it as his encouragement to work more actively for the CPAJ."

Father Chun was ordained a priest in 1990 and has headed the CPAJ since 2006. The priests' association first gained public attention by fighting for political and social reforms in the 1970s, when South Korea was under military dictatorship.

Last October, the CPAJ accused Samsung of creating multi-billion won slush funds. The expose led to a court conviction for former Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee for tax evasion. Lee and eight others also convicted are currently appealing the verdict. In June this year, the CPAJ organized street Masses in front of Seoul City Hall in support of popular candlelight vigils against resumption of U.S. beef imports despite public fear of "mad cow" disease.

The Hankyoreh, a daily newspaper, said in an Aug. 22 editorial in support of the CPAJ that the "Church hierarchy might have felt uneasy with the CPAJ as they do not want conflict with political powers."

The editorial acknowledged "outsiders should not interfere" in the internal affairs of a religion but said "we cannot keep our mouths shut when it extinguishes the light and acts against its professed mission to be the light and salt."

It observed that the local Catholic Church's development is greatly credited to the CPAJ serving as the light and salt in society and asked the Church hierarchy to "sincerely reflect to see if they are extinguishing the lamp." +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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(Source: Indian Catholic)

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