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[Editorial] Ill-considered words

Cardinal Yeom calls on Sewol families to concede

Kim Young-oh, the father of a Sewol victim, ended his 46-day hunger strike Thursday. In a radio interview, Kim said he was ending his fast at the insistence of his daughter and his mother. He realized that he needed to recover his strength to keep up a prolonged fight, he added.

On Wednesday, the Sewol families held a second meeting with the Saenuri Party, following the first meeting Monday. The families stuck to their demand for a special commission to be given the powers to investigate and indict while the ruling party remained steadfast in rejecting the demand. However, not all hope is lost that the impasse over a special Sewol bill might be resolved, as the two sides agreed to meet again on Sept. 1.

In the meantime, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, in a meeting with reporters Tuesday, warned against exploiting the pain of the Sewol families, calling on everyone to help heal the pain. The cardinal also called on the victims’ families to concede at a certain point.

“I hope our power and energy will not continue to be wasted on this issue,” Yeom said. “I think perhaps the victims’ families should concede at a certain point.”

Yeom is right in urging everyone to help heal the pain of Sewol disaster, and his warning against political exploitation of the Sewol tragedy is reasonable as there are always people ready to exploit a situation for their causes.

However, his remark on the need for the families to concede at a certain point is a little too harsh and unfeeling, especially coming from a clergyman. Instead of healing the families, Yeom has rubbed salt into their wounds. His comment, in light of Pope Francis’ actions and words in regard to the Sewol families during his recent visit, seems particularly ungracious and unkind to the families.

The yellow ribbon symbolizing support for the Sewol families was pinned on the cardinal’s robe but the meaning of wearing the badge appears to have failed to pierce his heart. It is not the weak and the powerless who he should ask to concede. The weak and the powerless have little to begin with, and for a religious leader to ask them to give up what little they have is heartless.

The pope wore the badge during his five-day visit here, from the moment he received it from the victims’ families, and wore it on the plane back to Rome. But at that time, the badge was noticeably absent from Yeom’s robes.

Speaking with reporters on the return flight to Rome, the pope revealed how, after he had worn the pin for half a day, someone told him, “It’s better to take it off. You must be neutral.” The pope continued to wear it, however. “Listen with human sorrow. You can’t be neutral,” the pope told reporters.

That message from the pope may not sit very well with Yeom, who said last November that the Church bans priests from direct political and social interventions. The remark came during a Mass in which he criticized the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice’s condemnation of the alleged interference by the National Intelligence Service in the presidential election campaign.

Yeom’s call on the victims’ families to concede came at a most inopportune time, just as the families were in talks with the Saenuri Party. A more prudent thing for Yeom to have done, as a religious leader who ministers to people’s souls, is to call on everyone concerned to sincerely listen to each other.

Perhaps we should all be reminded of what the pope said at the Blue House on his first day in Korea: “How important it is that the voice of every member of society be heard, and that a spirit of open communication, dialogue and cooperation be fostered.”