12/15/2010, 00.00
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Four Rivers controversy hits South Korean Church

by Theresa Kym Hwa-young
In a speech Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-Shuk announces he is in favour of the "Four Rivers Restoration project. The statement is in total disagreement with the position of the Korean Bishops' Conference, who have opposed to this project for months. This is the first time in the history of the Korean Church that priests have demanded the resignation of a prelate.

 Seoul (AsiaNews) - About twenty priests are demanding the resignation of Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-Shuk from his post as archbishop of Seoul, because of his support for the " Four Rivers Restoration project " The demand for his resignation followed the Cardinal’s intervention dated to 11 December last: "It is not the case that the college of bishops oppose the development of the four rivers." suggesting that he did not recognize the policy of opposition to the project that was regarded as a given by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea (CBCK) and other priests. In the history of Korean Church, is the first time of asking priests to a cardinal to resign from the post of archbishop.

The project, supported by the government of Lee Myung-bak, includes a series of initiatives and excavations near the four main rivers of the country. According to critics, the plan puts at risk the precious water resources and ecological balance of South Korea.

In response to the archbishop, some priests issued a statement entitled "A Prayer and an appeal by priests concerned about the times" during a press conference held at the Franciscan Jeong-dong Education Centre, in Seoul on 13 December. The note read "Cardinal Cheong should be held responsible for the social chaos and internal division of our Church, the result of an interpretation that is contrary to the explicit and concrete position of the entire college of bishops - and it ends - We hope that Cardinal will demonstrate his sincerity by showing the determination to step down. "  

Father Ham Sei-ung of the Archdiocese of Seoul, who attended the press conference, said that the position of cardinal “is not something you can arbitrarily step down from, so what they mean is that he should step down as archbishop of Seoul”.The priest added “Cardinal Cheong is already four years past the retirement age for archbishops, and by his statement opposing the opinions of the college of bishops he has acknowledged that he does not belong to the church community, so I hope he does step down from his position as archbishop”.

The demand from this group of priests seems to be the explosion of discontent that has accumulated over the years. Card. Cheong was elected Archbishop of Seoul in 1998, bringing with him a wave of strong conservatism. In the same year he banned the Association for Justice of Catholic priests (Cpaj) from holding prayer meetings in the cathedral of Mieong-dong. Since 2007 he has sent on sabbatical for three consecutive years, Fr. Jeon Jong-hoon, a representative of Cpaj who had assisted with attorney Kim Yong-cheol’s disclosure of a Samsung slush fund. After this move, observers within the religious sector began charging Cheong with trying to eradicate the will toward social participation among priests

Fr. Matthias Hur Young-yup, of the Archdiocese of Seoul, speaking on behalf of Cheong said in a radio interview with PBC, "Cheong did not overtly express agreement with the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project or take the side of the administration".

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