11/26/2013, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA
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Government brands pro-democracy priest as "enemy" of the nation

by Joseph Yun Li-sun
Fr Park Chang-shin, a priest from the Diocese of Jeonju and a member of the Catholic Priests' Association for Justice, celebrated a Mass in which he demanded that the government be held accountable for fraud and interference by the secret services in the 2012 elections. Speaking on tensions with the North, he said that it was natural for Pyongyang to attack the island because the South and the US held military exercises near its sea border. Outraged, the government is pressing charges against him. With police around Seoul cathedral, Seoul archbishop notes, "It is not the role of priests to directly intervene in political or social organisations".

Seoul (AsiaNews) - State prosecutors announced an investigation into Fr Park Chang-shin, a member of the Catholic Priests' Association for Justice (CPAJ) from Jeonju Diocese, over statements he made on Friday calling for the resignation of current President Park Geun-hye. Daughter of the late Park Chung-hye, who ruled South Korea with an iron fist for many years, she is accused of using the secret services to win last year's presidential elections (19 December 2012).

During his homily, Fr Park spoke about the "process of creating an enemy", election fraud and South Korea's undemocratic climate. Towards the end, he also noted that it was natural for North Korea to attack Yeonpyeong Island because the South and the US held military exercises near its sea border.

The government and President Park's ruling right-wing Saenuri party reacted to the statement with outrage. President Park yesterday said she would not tolerate any attempts to cause social division and hurt national unity. Prime Minister Chung Hong-won said Fr Park's remarks were "destructive to the country and supportive of the enemy". The Defence minister labelled the clergyman an "enemy" of the nation.

In the meantime, "We have assigned the case," a prosecutor said. "We are, however, still in discussions with others, including the Supreme Prosecutors' Office, on which prosecution office will investigate the case as several other petitions have been filed" against Fr Park.

For its part, Saenuri yesterday called for a national demonstration against South Korea's enemies in front of Seoul's Myeongdong Cathedral, 274 km from where the clergyman gave his offending sermon. Police (pictured) was deployed around the place of worship for protection.

A Catholic source in Seoul told AsiaNews that when "the air is unbreathable, we all feel under siege. Now in the streets, some people look askance at priests. This is really a bad time."

On Sunday during the Mass marking the end of Benedict XVI's Year of faith, the Archbishop of Seoul Andrew Yeom Soo-jung said that Catholics have the right and duty to get involved in politics and keep politicians on the straight and narrow; however, "It is not the role of priests to directly intervene in political or social organisations."

For Fr Park, this is all just smoke and mirrors. In an interview with the Hankyoreh newspaper, he defended his remarks. "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."

"I was talking about the process of creating an enemy," Park explained. "Under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun", détente with the North was part of their Sunshine Policy, and "North and South tried to interact with each other," and no acts of war never occurred. In his view, extremists want tensions, solving problems by picking new enemies.

Fr Park's position has had some support. An editorial in the Yonhap news agency asked why the government did not answer the priest's direct and circumstantial charges. His spoke for 40 minutes, and they focused on only the last two. Questioning what he said is fine, but the rest of the speech should be considered. In it, he mentioned electoral fraud and secret services' help in the last election.

Similarly, a cartoon in Hankyoreh portrays President Park, in a military uniform in use at the time when her father ruled South Korea with an iron fist, giving orders to a rightwing crowd to attack a priest, who is alone with a sign that reads 'Truth and Justice'.

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