Suwon (AsiaNews) - "[W]hat are kingdoms but great robberies," said Bishop Linus Lee Seong-hyo, the vicar general at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Suwon, quoting Saint Augustine. "We're seeing things that have never happened before in the history of constitutional government. Our politics are going back to the 1970s," he bemoaned.
Calling on the faithful not to stand idly by, he ended an 'emergency Mass' held to protest against the interference by South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) in last December's presidential election. About 100 priests and more than 600 congregants attended the service.
Hundreds of priests and nuns signed the manifesto denouncing the NIS for "defying laws prohibiting political involvement, illegally interfering in a presidential election, and behaving in a way that goes beyond the scope of its duties". Conservative Park Geun-hye won the election by a small margin against Moon Jae-in, a Catholic.
The manifesto calls on President Park to investigate and apologise for the NIS's political interference, and for the illegal release by the intelligence organisation and the ruling Saenuri Party of classified inter-Korean summit transcripts. It also demands reforms for the NIS and the development of a plan to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Delivered after the Mass by the bishop in the name of the whole diocese, rather than individual priests, the manifesto was the first such statement made by the Suwon Diocese.
To date, manifestos have been issued by the archdioceses in Busan, Musan, and Gwangju and the dioceses of Incheon and Jeonju.
Fr Thaddeus Lee Ki-rak, secretary general of the Bishops' Conference of Korea, and the Justice and Peace Commission issued a statement saying, "The Church is called to intervene for a very important reason, i.e. maintaining people's confidence in its government. This is a fundamental moral issue. "
Before the service, Bishop Mathias Ri Iong-hoon, who heads both the Suwon diocese and the diocese's justice and peace committee, railed against the irresponsibility of a "brain dead" President, the National Assembly, and big media that failed to respond appropriately.
Ri appealed to the President "to confront the misdeeds of the NIS and demand accountability. We cannot expect a state organisation to clean itself up when it has lost the ability to do so. I hope the President will take action to selflessly resolve the situation," he said.
The issue has not only upset the Catholic Church. Trade unions, opposition parties and government officials have in recent weeks taken part in seven candlelight vigils outside the Saenuri national headquarters in Seoul to demand "justice and truth."
Even Won Buddhist monks began a rotating hunger strike to get to the truth.