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Catholic priests cancel meeting but dissent remains to be resolved

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Published : Dec. 16, 2010 - 19:24

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A meeting initially planned to be held Thursday afternoon by about 60 members of the Archdiocese of Seoul, the Korean Catholic Church, to discuss its internal dissension over Seoul Archbishop Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk’s recent remarks allegedly in favor of the four-rivers clean-up project, was canceled Thursday morning.

The meeting, originally set to be held at Myeongdong Cathedral at 2 p.m. in Seoul, was canceled as the Church was receiving too much public and media attention over its discord, an official from Archdiocese of Seoul told The Korea Herald. “Cardinal Cheong as well as other members of the Church decided it’s better to pray and stay calm for the time being,” she said.

Cardinal Cheong, who is currently being asked to step down as archbishop of Seoul by some members of the Church, attended a separate meeting Thursday morning that reached an agreement to cancel the planned event. The official quoted Cardinal Cheong as saying, “While I understand the purpose of the planned meeting, we should pray for harmony and unity of our Church for now.”

The Catholic Church’s internal dispute began after Cardinal Cheong said last week during a press meeting to launch his essay book, “God’s Way and Human Way,” that the Korean catholic bishops were not opposed to the government’s four-rivers project, but only concerned about possible environmental damage. “It is not religious people but scientists who should deal with this project,” he said.

Cheong’s remarks enraged some organizations and individuals within the church, the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice in particular, a group of priests who had been holding mass in front of the National Assembly demanding the suspension of the four-rivers project since early November. The members openly denounced Cheong’s remarks as “utter nonsense” on Dec. 10.

On Monday, 25 elderly priests ― mostly retired from their archdioceses ― signed a petition demanding Cardinal Cheong’s apology and resignation for his remarks in a written petition. Among the 25, 13 held a press conference in Seoul, saying Cheong’s remarks misrepresented the shared position of the Korean Catholic Church, reached at a recent archbishops’ meeting. The general consensus of the meeting was against the four-rivers project, the priests said.

“We find Cardinal Cheong’s remarks as a mistake of the Korean Catholic Church itself,” the 13 priests said in a statement they took turns to read Monday. “It’s a tradition of the Church community that an individual accepts and respects the conclusions of the archbishops’ meetings, even if she or he disagrees. We demand Cardinal Cheong ask for forgiveness from all members of the Church, and voluntarily step down from his position as part of the apologizing process.”

Cheong’s resignation, however, is not up to the Korean Catholic Church nor Cardinal Cheong himself to decide, the official from Archdiocese of Seoul said. “The Vatican in Rome has the ultimate say,” she said. “Such internal dispute is very rare in the history of the Korean Catholic Church and is disheartening for Korean believers of the Catholic faith.”

The Archdiocese of Seoul does not plan to hold a meeting regarding its internal dispute in the future, the official said.

By Claire Lee (clairelee@heraldcorp.com)