Re-post from Hankyoreh, March 13, 2013
Priests were apparently turned away for their views on conflict with North Korea and naval base construction on Jeju Island
By Kim Kyu-won, staff reporter
When the Ministry of Defense was recently selecting military chaplains, three priests were rejected when they gave guarded responses to the question of what they think about controversial issues such as the naval base construction on Jeju Island and the 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. The decision is igniting controversy about ideological screening. Never before have priests applying to become chaplains been turned down in the selection process.
On Mar. 6, the Ministry of Defense announced the military chaplains whom they had selected, which showed that three of the nine priests who had applied had not been chosen. Their applications were rejected because of their answers to questions about the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the naval base on Jeju Island during the interview on Jan. 31, the Hankyoreh confirmed. The interview was conducted by four military chaplains and three regular colonel-level officers.
When questioned about North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, one of the priests who was turned down said, “This was 60 years of ill will between the divided countries coming to a head. As a priest, I can’t give a response that leans to either one side or the other.”
The interviewers also asked the priest whether he thought the construction of the naval base on Jeju Island was the will of God or not. In response, the priest said, “The problem with the base is not so much what it is as how it was carried out. People are hurting because of how it was done, which leads one to wonder whether it was really the will of God.”
There were no major differences between the answers provided by the priests who were interviewed. Realizing this, one of the interviewers asked, “The priests all gave the same responses. Would other priests feel the same way?” To this, another of the priests who was rejected asked the interviewer to consider whether it was really necessary to ask ideological questions to people who are in the clergy.
“The primary job of a chaplain is to listen to the concerns of military personnel and to pray for them,” said one of the priests who was not selected. “I was asked questions that did not correspond to those duties.”
When the interviewer asked the priest once again, “What will you do when the military’s position is different from your personal position?” The priest said, “I will not insist on my opinion.”
The three priests were notified between Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, immediately after the interview, that their application had been rejected. The reason given was that their understanding of security and their attitude during the interview had been problematic. After the interview, the military chaplains expressed their opinion that the priests’ application should be accepted, but some of the three regular officers felt that they should be rejected, the Ministry of Defense said.
Regarding this, an interviewer with the Ministry of Defense said, “In 2012, Minister of Defense Kim Kwan-jin, instructed us to make sure that we assessed how officers view the country. As a result, these issues were dealt with quite a bit more strictly during the selection of military chaplains.”
“It is fundamentally inappropriate to apply ideological screening to priests, since they are members of the clergy,” said Kim Deok-jin, secretary general of the Catholic Human Rights Commission.
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