Korea's new ambassador to the Vatican, Han Hong-soon, appointed last year, gave his guarded opinion on a few subjects dealing with the Korean Catholic Church in an interview with the Dong-A-Ilbo.
The ambassador was the head of the Catholic Lay Apostolic Council of Korea and knows the Church well from his many years in positions of authority. He was one of five members selected in 2008 to the Vatican's International Council on Financial Matters. Previous ambassadors were career diplomats, but his background is in academia, receiving his doctorate in economics from the Roman Gregorian University; he taught economics for over 30 years in a Korean university. He did not look for the job, he said, and when it came, he suddenly felt like the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusulem for the last time.
Asked about the future of the Korean Church with the retirement of Cardinal Chong: there will be changes. The Cardinal had submitted his resignation before his 75th birthday as is required. (Cardinal Kim's resignation was accepted when he reached 76.) Cardinal Chong is now 80 years old and his resignation has still not been accepted. He is highly respected in Rome, said the ambassador, and in canon law few are his peers.
To the question what did the Pope say about Korea when he presented his credentials, he answered that the Pope said that Korea has gone from a receiving Church to a giving one, and a great deal is expected from such a large group of educated Catholics.
He was asked about the possibility of another cardinal for Korea. (Japan, which has only 500,000 Catholics, had two cardinals in years past.) The ambassador mentioned that Cardinal Kim, on his visits to Rome, had asked for another cardinal, and that he also will when the occasion presents itself. Korea, he said, is entitled to another cardinal.
The interviewer asked about the priests in the Catholic Peace and Justice Committee ,who were asking for the Cardinal's resignation. A position criticized by many lay people. When asked what the Vatican thought about this issue, he said they were pleased with the way the Cardinal handled the situation.
The ambassador also discussed, off the record, some of the possible candidates who are in a position to follow Cardinal Chong, and when asked about one possible candidate, who is not on good terms with the Government, he had nothing to say.