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Issue Date:  November 16, 2007

Korean priests advocate a more democratic church

SEOUL, South Korea -- The Catholic church should embrace democracy in order to be relevant to modern society, a Korean priest said at a recent symposium on pastoral work.

Fr. Robert An Soong-keel, pointed out that the whole world operates on the basis of a person’s vote, but in the Catholic church, only bishops and priests get to decide on diocesan and parish matters. This way of proceeding has to be reconsidered, the 64-year-old priest said.

“A bishop’s election is done secretly and goes against a democratic society based on transparency and openness. I hope to see a bishop elected by the people, and for a term no longer than 10 years,” An declared.

Around 150 priests, religious, seminarians and laypeople joined the symposium, “Democratization Process and Korean Catholic Church,” organized by the Gaudium et Spes Pastoral Institute Oct. 29 in Seoul.

The institute, named after the Second Vatican Council’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” was established independently by the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice. Neither the institute nor the association is endorsed by the local church hierarchy.

The aim of this year’s annual symposium was to analyze and reflect on the state of the church amid South Korea’s own democratization process during the past 20 years, and to formulate a new identity for the church.

“If a bishop changes his attitude toward the church and its constituents, then priests and religious can change theirs, and church renewal can dramatically be achieved. The signs of the times demand that,” said An, parish priest of Buron Church in Wonju diocese.

And if bishops and priests won’t seek fundamental change, God’s people at the grass roots, for whom he said the church exists, will not do it.

The group criticized the Korean bishops’ decision to stop publishing Samok, the country’s only church magazine dealing with pastoral issues.

The bishops stopped the monthly after the April issue this year and dissolved the Pastoral Institute of Korea, which had primary responsibility of producing Samok, because the bishops said both had served their purpose of disseminating information on the Second Vatican Council.

-- UCA News

National Catholic Reporter, November 16, 2007

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