Thursday, July 30, 2009

KOREA Angry Parishioners Disrupt 'Reconciliation' Mass

July 30, 2009
Original Article

SEOUL (UCAN) -- A Sunday Mass turned into a protest as parishioners vented their anger over what they believed to be their archbishop protecting a former parish priest who allegedly misappropriated money from the cathedral.

During the July 26 Mass in Imdong Cathedral in Gwangju (Kwangju), presided over by Archbishop Andreas Choi Chang-mou and 15 other concelebrants, some of the 400-strong congregation shouted as the priest involved, Father Raymundus Shin Dong-sul, recited a prayer.
Parishioners arguing with Mass celebrants at
ImdongCathedral after the July 26 Mass -- Photo by John Choi

The protestors accuse their former parish priest of misappropriating some 250 million won (US$200,000) since 2001. Father Shin was transferred to another parish in 2007 and made archdiocesan procurator in 2008.

In his message at the end of the Mass, archdiocesan chancellor Father Chrysostomus Kim Kye-hong said the Mass was intended by the archbishop to be an act of "reconciliation" between the priest and his accusers.

Father Kim also said the allegation that the archbishop was protecting Father Shin was groundless and that the prelate had been impartial and is urging the two sides to pursue "clear and objective fact-finding."

However, halfway, through his message, protesters turned off his microphone and the lights in the building. Others walked out of the cathedral and later argued with Archbishop Choi and the Mass concelebrants as they tried to leave.

Father Kim told UCA News on July 28 that it is unimaginable that parishioners would resort to disrupting a Mass whatever grievances they might be nursing. He said groundless rumors have aggravated the situation.

"Anyway, it is shameful that priests are involved in such a situation. Excited parishioners should calm down and solve the problem though dialogue with us," he said.

Father Kim, however, managed to complete reading out his message during the Mass despite the disruption.

The message said that after the parish pastoral council had lodged a formal complaint with the police against a parish official allegedly involved in the misappropriation of funds, Archbishop Choi had said the archdiocese would abide by the police investigation.

Father Kim said that Father Shin and Father Jacob Song Chong-eui, the priest who replaced him at the cathedral, and who had also accused him of the misdeed, were ordered to leave their posts for a "vacation to reflect upon themselves".

The parish's pastoral council is now automatically dissolved according Canon Law, said Father Kim. For the time being, Father Kim himself will fill in for the two priests.

However, members of the parish pastoral council took a different view.

"We as Catholics well know we should not disturb a Mass. But it was spontaneous as we were very disappointed and angry at the archbishop who has tried to conceal the truth," one of them told UCA News.

He said the council issued "an appeal to parishioners" on July 23, saying that Father Shin, along with a parish official, had misappropriated money in connection with several repair and remodeling contracts on church buildings.

But the archbishop still insists on defending Father Shin and is not listening to the parishioners, the council member stated.

The member, who requested anonymity, said the archbishop had rejected their requests for dialogue as well as the financial report of a certified public accountant for the parish.

Another council member told UCA News that they cannot accept Father Song's enforced "vacation" because it is Father Shin who is in the wrong. "Some parishioners have been holding a sit-in outside the archdiocesan office for a week now. We will stay there until the archdiocese accepts the truth," she added.

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