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Seoul Archdiocese apologizes for controversy over remains of Korea's first Catholic priest

In this photo provided by the Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung (L) gives part of the remains of St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon, the first native Korean Catholic priest, to Monsignor Julien Kabore, charge d'affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature in Manila, in Seoul on Nov. 23, 2021. (Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul)
In this photo provided by the Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung (L) gives part of the remains of St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon, the first native Korean Catholic priest, to Monsignor Julien Kabore, charge d'affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature in Manila, in Seoul on Nov. 23, 2021. (Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul)

The Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul has made a public apology for the recent controversy over possible transactions of the remains of St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon, the first native Korean Catholic priest.

"We apologize to all people who are concerned about recent news on relics of St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon," the Archdiocese said in a press release Wednesday.

The apology came as the whereabouts of Kim's physical remains have come into the spotlight since a fragment of his spine was put on sale through an online e-commerce platform in March.

Some cited that the Code of Canon Law strictly bans the sale of sacred relics without the permission of the Vatican.

The debate heated up with the recent revelation of a church report published in 1996. The report showed that some 141 institutions and clergy, including a church of the Archdiocese of Seoul, had been given a fragment of Kim's body as of 1996.

A separate paper said his remains have been scattered to a total of 209 places, including 40 churches or religious institutions, with more than 160 Catholic priests and followers having obtained a physical relic of the saint.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul started a comprehensive investigation into its 150 member churches last year to check whether they have the physical relics.

It said out of 103 chapels under its jurisdiction that enshrine relics of Catholic saints, 85 of them have Kim's remains.

"We've distributed the relics to church officials in accordance with our practice and tradition," it said. "We've checked their names on a list of receivers, but it's incomplete due to the lack of detailed personal information."

The organization also admitted that a fragment of Kim's remains was stolen from a chapel in 1983.

"We found out that a relic of St. Kim Tae-gon was thieved in 1983 while on display at a church," it said.

The Seoul Archdiocese said it will re-issue certificates to those who possess part of Kim's remains in a bid to keep close tabs on preservation of sacred remains and prevent further transactions.

Born in 1821, St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon was ordained as the first Korean priest in 1845. But he was persecuted and executed for practicing Christianity the following year. He was canonized as a saint by Pope John Paul II during his visit to South Korea in 1984.

The South Korean Catholic church celebrated the 200th birth anniversary of St. Kim last year, carrying out various memorial events and campaigns, including pilgrimage programs and special services across the country. (Yonhap)

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