Friday, May 29, 2020

Political Neutrality and the Truth

This year, the Korean Catholic Church celebrated the May 18th "Gwangju Democratization Movement" on a massive scale. At the Cathedral of the Gwangju Diocese, the archbishop said a memorial Mass which was attended by bishops from all over the country. It is the first time that so many bishops have gathered at the May 18th Memorial Mass, and it is the first time the Cardinal has attended. So begins an article in the Eyes of the Believer column of the Catholic Times by a college lecturer in journalism.

Why did so many bishops come to the memorial Mass in Gwangju this year? This is not because of the chronological significance of the 40th anniversary. To put it bluntly, it was because they hadn't done so in the past.
There was no deep interest, so they paid little attention to the anniversary. But right now, the Democratic Party is firmly in power, and May 18 is proudly taking root in the Korean soil. It has become 'the trend'.

Guarding the truth is the duty of the church, but the Korean Catholic Church was more conscious of the 'trend' than the truth 40 years ago. Even though the military's human rights abuses reached an extreme in Gwangju, innocent citizens were brutally abused, democracy likewise fell to the ground.
At that time, most of the Korean Catholic churches outside of the Gwangju Archdiocese turned away from the truth and pain of Gwangju. At the beginning of the protest, the archbishop of the diocese testified to the truth to the bishops but only silence was returned. 

The first public opinion of the church on the 5/18 tragedy was the special letter of the Archbishop of Gwanju: "I believe in the victory of the resurrection through the cross." On June 1, the Gwangju priests prepared a document called 'The Gwangju Incident', highlighting that the cause of the incident was due to the ruthless oppression by the martial law forces and sent it to all the parishes in the country.

The Gwangju priests, who struggled alone, published a statement "Our resolve to meet the second anniversary of the Gwangju Revolt" on May 18, two years later, and specifically elaborated the truth, asking for the release of prisoners, compensation for the injured, and censure of the responsible persons. Another two years later, the protests that had been called 'Gwangju Incident' are now the 'Heroes of Gwangju'.

However, even in the 1990s, most of the dioceses besides the Gwangju Archdiocese and Jeonju Diocese didn't seem too concerned. On this occasion, the  Justice and Peace priests published: "Our Confession and Prayer," on May 18, 1990, and criticized the Korean Catholic Church that ignored the truth and pain of Gwangju. It was a rebuke of the bystander attitude of the hierarchy of Korea. It wasn't until 1997 that the national lay council held a memorial Mass with the Gwangju priests. It was not easy for laypeople to reject the thinking of the hierarchy and act on the judgment of the priests of Gwangju since clericalism in the Catholic Church is strong.

We learn that telling the truth and acting for the truth is here in the present time. Perhaps that is why the martyrs are so wise. Nevertheless, the church often procrastinates, it 'will do' instead of 'now presently'.  (Of course, the achievements of the democratization process in the late 1980s were great.) 'To maintain political neutrality' is the reason given for the reticence. And it has become a practice now to confess and reflect on the 'error of the past' decades, or hundreds of years later.

After the Sewol ferry accident, many priests and religious prayed and were concerned and served individually, but the parishes remained spectators. This was also because of 'political neutrality'. At the time, Pope Francis when he came to Korea, was asked to remain neutral on the Sewol disaster. He answered: "There is no neutrality in the face of pain." After the change of government, the churches changed toward the Sewol ferry disaster.

The politics of 'political neutrality' was also mobilized in anti-Korean behavior during the Japanese colonial period. Although it was the Catholic Church in Korea that deserved to lead and proclaim liberation, it prevented believers from participating in the Independence Movement, participated in the Japanese war of aggression and acquiescence to visits to shrines

Yes, today, the reason why our church follows the 'trend' rather than the truth and looks forward to the future instead of the present, is because it wants to be 'politically neutral' on the outside, but it is actually because of 'security'. Is this true? If the church wants to exchange the truth and suffering of the times, for security why would the church exist? Is that the identity of our Korean Catholic Church?

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