Saturday, July 17, 2021

Catholic Response to Corona in Korea

On the Catholic website Now/Here was an article on the Catholic response to the pandemic by Korean Catholics. It was first published in the Human Rights Research Center of the Jesuit Society. This is a brief summary of the contents.

A professor of Sogang University presented his thoughts under the title: Awareness and Response of the Korean Catholic Church during the Corona Era. He explained that the thorough compliance with the
governments' guidelines were the results of a combination of factors: organizational characteristics of Catholicism, historical experience, understanding of the world, and response to social expectations.

Organizational characteristics come from the parish-centered life where all must follow the orders of the bishop. This made for a seamless response, helped also by the response of the Vatican.
Secondly, the historical experience refers to the process of dealing with various infectious diseases from ancient times to the Middle Ages and early modern times. In addition, dedicated care for patients by parish priests, religious and laity, and caring for charities voluntarily organized by believers, funerals, and protection of orphans is the historical experience for Catholics.
Catholicism understands the realization of the common good in the world on a doctrinal level, so it is acceptable to restrict some religious life, such as community Mass, for quarantine purposes.
The social credibility and social expectations of Korean Catholics are also important factors. In other words, Korean Catholicism gained social credibility in the 1970s and 1980s by dedicating itself to the democratic movement against the military dictatorship. Based on this, there is a sense that social responsibility must be fulfilled at the base of Korean Catholicism. Therefore, the consciousness to meet the social expectations with active cooperation with the government's efforts in the prevention of corona.
The professor admits that the negative aspects of the past 25 years have been amplified in the corona situation, including a continued slowdown in the growth rate of Korean Catholics and a significant decline in the participation in the Sunday Masses. However, he also pointed out the believers also realized that it was not only on parish grounds they were to live with their consciousness of religious life. Therefore, he argued that the corona situation forced people to live their faith in their everyday lives outside the parish which served as an opportunity to reform Catholicism. Furthermore, Catholicism's efforts to fulfill its social responsibility for taking care of the poor and underprivileged, such as the homeless and migrant workers, are still ongoing amid the corona crisis.

The writer of the article made some suggestions regarding the professor's talk.

Of course, there is no objection to the diagnosis that Catholic organizational principles have enabled a uniform response to the corona crisis. However, doesn't the decision-making structure, which culminates in the bishop help to make the ordinary believers passive? The situation in which community Mass was suspended and confessions and the other sacraments difficult to approach should have brought a considerable sense of crisis to enthusiastic believers. However, what role did believers and parish organizations, and parish councils, play in the process of finding ways to resolve the problems?
In the long run, the religious vitality of Catholicism in Korea could continue to decline. Perhaps the individual believer will tend to pursue an inner religiosity more than the liturgical or sacramental life of the parish. How will the Catholic Church, which values ​​the liturgy and the sacraments, deal with this situation? It could be a more serious crisis than Corona.  
If you accept at face value the claim that social doctrine and the pursuit of common good played a positive role in the prevention of corona, you will think that Korean Catholicism is practicing the social doctrine with a consensus. But is that so? In this regard, the question is whether it would be appropriate to understand the quarantine cooperation of Korean Catholics under the framework of the pursuit of the common good based on the social doctrine. Bishops' conferences, bishops' associations, or dioceses can use the expression "cooperation in quarantine" in the statement to realize the common good. However, it is an excessive interpretation to say that social doctrines and pursuit of common causes are the work of the whole church for it is equating church authorities with the whole church.

The professor in conclusion gave his answers to the above rebuttal of the writer.

As for the organizational characteristics of Catholicism, its vertical hierarchy indeed tends to make believers passive. It is the result of a disease called clerical centralism or clericalism in the church. It was not only a problem for the Korean Catholic Church, but it was also taken for granted in the past. However, since the Second Vatican Council, which closed in 1965, clericalism has been understood to be a problem to be solved. It is not that there were no complaints from believers in the process of quarantine measures with decisions about  community Mass. According to a survey, believers were evaluating the suspension of community Mass as a good thing but pointed out that the decision had to be with the believers.

Meanwhile, many priests who saw the empty churches seemed surprised. So it is often found that clerics try to listen better to the believers. Some of the Dioceses were led by the Council of lay believers, to support the creation and distribution of guidelines for the life of believers during the covid-19 period. As such, Covid-19 has led to a tendency to weaken clericalism and strengthen the leadership of believers. It remains to be seen whether this trend will spread throughout the Korean church or return to its former state.

Social doctrine and the pursuit of the common good had a real impact on the prevention of the coronavirus. The official position of the Catholic Church comes from the bishops. Therefore, the official position should be interpreted primarily from the position of the bishops. However, different opinions may arise from within the church. In particular, opinions may differ on social doctrine. Because the social situation is different.

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