Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Controversies Catholics Faced in Korea

The Catholic Church of Korea had been confronted with many controversies over the years and some of them are similar to the the larger problems the Church has faced in Europe.

The Catholic Church in its introduction to Korea preached against what is referred to as "Ancestor Worship", it was part of Korean culture but the Church saw it mixed with a great deal of superstition: consequently, the Church and its followers were persecuted.

In the introduction of Christianity to China the Jesuits who worked in the larger cities and with the educated had no problem with the rites, it was the missioners in the country who saw another side, the superstitious side of these rites. The Jesuits were more interested in the original intent of the Rites and not how they were sometimes practiced. This ended up as a serious problem among the missioners themselves. This was the Catholicism that was introduced to Korea after the Church ruled the Confucian Rites were not to be followed by Catholics. Basically the approval of the Rites came in 1939 with the decision of Pope Pius XII.

During the Japanese occupation of Korea some Catholic Koreans sympathized with the Japanese for their opposition to Communism. You had the two giants, Russia and China who espoused Communism. Both totalitarian countries opposed to Japan a totalitarian country. It was a dilemma that made it difficult to chose for some. The Church seemed to be on the side of the totalitarian countries opposed to Russian and Communism. This was also the dilemma for the Catholics in Europe: totalitarian Germany, Italy and even Spain against totalitarian Russia and atheism. It was not easy for many to decide between two evils. The division of Korea into North and South, Communism and Democracy brought other problems to the table.

In Korea during the colonial period we had the Shinto Rite controversy.
In the diocese of Pyong Yang which was administered by Maryknoll the rites controversy was so upsetting that a gag order was sent from Maryknoll: the issue was not to be discussed. During the occupation of Korea by the Japanese from 1910 to 1945 the Japanese Government attempted to Japanize the Koreans and a method was to have them worship at the Shinto shrines. Some of the Maryknollers thought that it was merely social and cultural, a civil act of patriotism with no religious overtones while others saw it as superstition, a religious act, acknowledging the Japanese control. The foreign missionaries are often criticized for upholding the separation of Church and State and uninterested in the plight of the Koreans.

Fr. Robert A. Lilly Maryknoller expressed it in the editor's introduction to the Book Father John E. Morris , Prefect Apostolic of Pyong Yang, in these words:

Father Morris was asked, or ordered , to resign, by the Superior General of Maryknoll, Fr. James E. Walsh in consultation with the Maryknoll Council after the Maryknoll Chapter at Hong Kong in 1936. It was not an action initiated by the Vatican, but rather , a Maryknoll action due to the dissension among Maryknollers in Korea and an attempt to bring peace and harmony back to the Pyong Yang Prefecture after the emotion filled and soul wrenching problems and disputes regarding the " Shinto Rites" which were imposed by the Japanese Military Government then in power...Until the Vatican Archives are opened and further study of this period is done in a more formal way, the detail, causes and effects may only be glimpsed.

These controversies the Church has faced are theoretically still open to much discussion. There are many lessons that should have been learned from what Korea had to face during those years. It is sad, but some of the scars of those years have not been healed satisfactorily to enable complete honesty and openness. Hopefully the Church will be wiser for this history.

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