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Seoul Archbishop Cheong

Posted December. 09, 2010 10:39,   


Many Korean Catholics were confused in March, when the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea issued a statement that the four-river restoration project might be doing “fatal damage” to the environment. Many Catholics said they shunned going to church because they did not want to listen to sermons opposing the project.

Father Dominico Kim Kye-choon said in Voice of Wilderness, an Internet journal for laymen, that many innocent priests would have agreed with opponents to the project after reading their materials. “As priests are masters in belief, they can be fooled more easily than any other persons,” he said. Seoul Archbishop Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk said Wednesday that the conference did express fears over the project’s environmental impact but did not oppose it.

His comments contradict the Catholic Church’s position of apparent opposition to the four-river project. The archbishop said the decision was an expression of environmental fears and a wake-up call for the government to overcome risks related to the project. His comment that it should be up to scientists and experienced engineers to judge in-depth issues on the project seems to reflect his personal and scientific backgrounds. Cheong majored in chemical engineering at Seoul National University before entering Catholic University of Korea to study theology. His father was a deputy industry minister in North Korea. Cheong could be drawing a clear line between the four-river project and religion based on his engineering disposition.

The cardinal is sometimes viewed as refraining from commenting on socio-political issues, but he does so when he feels a need to. In April, he cited the government’s lack of communication with the public. Last year, he urged opposition politicians not to start physical fights in the National Assembly. In anti-U.S. beef protests in 2008, he asked politicians to stop street politics and engage in parliamentary representative politics. His comments on social trends, in which self-purported experts comment on issues they are not experts in, deserves particular attention. “I don’t talk about things I’m not an expert in,” he said.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok (yuri@donga.com)