Church in South Korea Does an Exam of Conscience

Asks for Forgiveness for Historical Faults and Disunity

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SEOUL, South Korea, JAN. 15, 2001 (
In the hopes of making amends for the past, the South Korean bishops´ conference has published a document summarizing the faults committed by Catholics over the country´s two centuries of evangelization.

The first fault referred to in the document, entitled «Reform and Reconciliation,» dealt with the Church´s support of foreign powers in the 18th and 19th centuries, in response to Korea´s harsh persecution of Catholics.

Likewise, the document recognizes the error of the early 20th-century condemnation of the combatants for national liberation who opposed Japanese colonialism.

The South Korean Church´s third «mea culpa» referred to the lack of efforts for unity and reconciliation in the Korean peninsula, especially when the North and South were divided after World War II.

The document also called for an examination of conscience on the promotion of a society that is close to the poor, and on the fostering of values and life.

The active South Korean Catholic community, which numbers 4 million, or 8% of the population, developed in this country after 1784. In the course of a century, Catholics suffered persecution, ending in the martyrdom of 10,000 faithful.

The bishops´ document is a fruit of the Jubilee Year call to cleanse the memory and admit past errors. In their document, the Korean bishops say, «Perhaps we tried to acquire religious liberty and protection for the Church by depending on foreign powers. … [P]erhaps we participated in unjust pressures on behalf of foreign countries, in events that caused suffering and wounds to our people.»

The Korean Church also expresses regret for not having been «positively involved in efforts to overcome the division of the Korean people, which took place during the process of reorganization of the world order, following national independence; and to create unity and reconciliation.»

Tensions have eased, but not disappeared, between North and South Korea since last summer, after a summit in Pyongyang, the North´s capital.

Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, a leading advocate of national reconciliation, remains hopeful after the summit. In an interview in the January edition of the Italian monthly Mondo e Missione, the cardinal said that «some were afraid but, in general, the acceptance of that event was good.»

He noted, however, that the climate cooled down because of the South Korean government´s inability to spark an internal debate and because of the mistrust generated by possible manipulations by the North´s Communist regime. «Do they really want to construct peaceful coexistence with us, or do they only try to use us to obtain aid?» Cardinal Kim asked.

The bishops´ document ends by analyzing the challenges to Christian commitment in today´s society. Although under the 1960-1990 dictatorship the Church was a point of reference for the people, the bishops said there were «insufficient efforts [made] to resolve the conflicts between regions, classes and generations, and to promote the human rights of those who are marginalized or discriminated against in our societies, such as disabled persons and foreign workers.»

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