2009-08-25 16:26
2015-03-05 17:20
Catholic Church in Korea in the 1960's

Catholic Church in Korea in the 1960's



1. Context of the Times

    The 1960's was a turning point for Korean history. From the political point of view the April 19th Democratic Revolution was the eruption of the ardent desires of the people to decentralize the top-heavy national structure, to reduce its power, to heal the scars of war and division, to lessen the controls being inflicted on the people because of international relationships and to expand national sovereignty and its autonomy. The April Revolution was also the starting point of the determination of the people to achieve a democratic economy, a just distribution of wealth and the national industrialization through reviving the declining economy.
    Thus, the presidential system which caused Rhee Syngman's dictatorship was rejected right after the April 19th Democratic Revolution, and the parliamentary system was introduced with Chang Myon who was elected to the Prime Minister of the Cabinet. It took concrete steps toward the reconstruction of the economy to meet the needs of the times and develop plans which became a blueprint for the 5-year economic development plan later on. However the Democratic Party of Chang that had inherited the anti-communism and the military system from the previous Liberal Party lasted only about nine months.
    The military regime that took power through a coup tried to justify its conduct by strengthening the anti-communism and stressing the urgency of effective economic development. Consequently they carried out rapid industrialization by inducing foreign capital. Most of Koreans sympathized with the military regime in this regard.
    However the military regime built up an authoritative political system very quickly by breaking its promise with the people to turn over the power to the civilian government. In this process the military regime tried to persuade people of the necessity of their development system but they had to face strong reaction of the people. The military government repressed all opposition by means of a highly systematic intelligence machinery. In the process of rapid industrialization many problems and side effects arose regarding the preferential inducement of foreign capital and the abuse of workers' rights.
    From the perspective of Church history the 1960's was also a turning point. After the Second Vatican Council(1962-1965) a general movement to attempt the renewal of the Church was expanded across the country. The Korean bishops who participated in the Council that had presented a systematic theory on the social participation of the Church tried to emphasize the new mission of the Church. In this process tension had developed gradually between the new teachings of the Church and the new situations that the Korean society was facing with.


2. The Church, the State and the Apostolic See

    Under the Chang Myon's Cabinet, right after the April Revolution in 1960, the Church and the government had maintained a peaceful relationship. In 1960, the Most Rev. Xavier Zupi(1960.11-1962.4.) was appointed as the Apostolic delegate to Korea and the relationship between the Korean government and the Apostolic See grew stronger. This situation continued after the May 16th military coup.
    The Church, a strong supporter of Chang Myon, tried to keep a good relationship with the military authorities in power that had overthrown Chang's Cabinet by a military coup. The Apostolic Delegate recognized the military revolutionary power and expressed friendly feeling towards it because of its anti-communist policy. This attitude of the Apostolic Delegate was understood to be a prearranged plan by the Church in order to avoid conflict with the military government and its rejection.
    The Catholic Church in Korea in the 1960's made remarkable progress on the institutional level. It obtained permission from the Holy See to establish an official hierarchy on March 10, 1962 and at the same time the ordinaries of Seoul, Taegu and Kwangju were promoted to Archbishop. In this way the Church in Korea was restructured into three archdioceses and eight dioceses. The Dioceses of Inchon, Taejon, Chunchon, Pyongyang and Hamhung belonged to the ecclesiastic province of Seoul, the dioceses of Pusan and Cheongju to the ecclesiastic province of Taegu and the diocese of Chonju to the ecclesiastic province of Kwangju. 178 years after of its establishment the Catholic Church in Korea obtained the necessary structure to become an autonomous local Church. Korea was no longer a mission territory.
    The Church and the government continued to maintain a relatively peaceful relationship. The Catholic Conference of Korea, established in 1949 with all the ordinary bishops as constituent members, was registered as an incorporated body according to the new Korean law in September, 1962. A number of Catholic politicians participated in the new military government. The Catholic participation in the new government was motivated by the regime's declaration of anti-communism and industrialization policy because both the Korean society and the Church at that time were challenged by serious poverty. They felt the urgent need to overcome this poverty through industrial development. However the military government used highly sophisticated intelligence operations and attempted to investigate the Church. Seeds for a new conflict between the Church and government were germinating in the 1960's.


3. Renewal of the Church and Development

    Korean society in the 1960's was a victim of the military coup led by General Park Chung-hee. However during this period the Korean people built up a momentum for economic progress and tried to overcome the hardship of the coup by challenging the authoritarian government. In order to control such a situation President Park Chung-hee intensified dictatorial regime by Yushin Constitution in October, 1972. From the April 19th Democratic Revolution in 1960 to the Yushin Constitution in 1972 the Church in Korea had pursued constant self renewal and made considerable progress.
    One important impetus for the renewal and progress of the Church was her self awakening in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. During and after the Council all dioceses and parishes undertook study of the Council documents. Not only the bishops who participated in the Council and the clergy but also lay people were eager to study the documents and implement them. The Church leaders at that time reflected much on the history of the Church in Korea and valued the tradition and heritage of the martyrs all the more. They agreed on the need of the social participation of the Church in the life of universal Church. The image of the Church was renewed in many aspects.
    Korean Catholics' activities were characterized by the devotion to the Korean martyrs. The faithful reflected on their Christian identity and understood that their mission was to work for the evangelization of the nation by following the example of their faith ancestors.
    Devotion to the martyrs flourished with the canonization movement for the 24 martyrs who died during the persecution in 1866 and reached its peak in 1966 with their beatification. In 1967 the Church published The Catholic Prayer Book and The Catechism of Catholic Church in Korea that was made with modern and everyday language of people. The Mass was celebrated in Korean language according to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and this helped the faithful to participate actively in the liturgy. Also a new theological approach for inculturation was attempted and the Bible study movement initiated by the Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and others helped the faithful to deepen their Biblical knowledge.
    The organization of the Pastoral Council of Laity in the parishes, a consultative body, promoted lay people's participation in the Church life. The Lay Apostolate Council of Korea was established in 1968 and dioceses were organized as they are today with the establishment of the dioceses of Inchon, Suwon, Wonju, Masan, Andong and Jeju. Archbishop Stephen Kim Sou-hwan of Seoul was appointed Cardinal in 1969 becoming the first cardinal in the history of the Catholic Church in Korea. Since then his activities have had considerable influence on the history of the Church as well as on the modern history of Korea.
    The number of Korean Catholics increased from 450,000 in 1968 to 800,000 in 1980. In 12 years the number of Korean Catholics almost doubled. The number of Korean priests increased from 243 to 571 in the same period and the number of women religious from 721 to 2,193. The Church in Korea at that time was characterized by a high increase in the number of the faithful, abundant priestly and religious vocations, and zeal to serve for the progress of the Korean society.


4. Catholic Church in Society

    Since the Second Vatican Council the Church in Korea has undergone a great deal of change. One of the remarkable changes has been the dialogue with other religions. Until the 1960's the Catholics had no communications with Protestants and dialogue with Buddhists or other traditional religions were banned. This hostile atmosphere was replaced gradually by a friendly relationship. Delegates from the Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Buddhist, Confucian and Chondogyo formed The Association of Religions of Korea in 1965. Following that The Conference of Religion Organizations of Korea was formed in 1972. Later on other pan-religion organizations were formed such as The Korean Conference on Religion and Peace. One thing worthy of note was the improvement in the relationship with the Protestant Church.
    The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea has made ecumenical efforts and established the Committee to Promote Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue(CPCUID). Since then, Catholic priests and Protestant ministers made mutual visits and preached in each other's churches. Prayer meetings for Christian unity were held and collaboration for common good was made. The outstanding fruit of the ecumenical movement was the common translation of the Old and New Testaments into the Korean language. The CPCUID consulted the Protestant Churches for the common translation of the Bible in 1967 and as a result the New Testament was published in 1970 and the translation of the Old and New Testaments was completed and published in 1977. Since then this Bible has been officially recognized and used in the Catholic Church in Korea .
    With a new understanding of and insights into social justice the Church began to engage in the cause of human rights and the progress of Korean society. The Church vocally supported the dignity of human life against the population control policy of the government. In 1964, when the Korean government attempted to pass in the National Assembly the so-called "eugenic bill" the Catholic Church opposed it strongly, and as a result the bill was not passed. Also in 1970, when the government tried to legalize the abortion by introducing the Mother and Child Health Law the entire Church in Korea has opposed it vigorously and carried out pro-life movement. Thanks to it many people came to be aware of the sacredness of human life and the need to protect it.
    With the increasing social concern among the Church leaders and with their support the J.O.C. movement flourished. The Catholic Farmers' Movement which was established in 1966 showed the pastoral concern of the Church for farmers. When labor disputes connected with the J.O.C. occurred in Ganghwa Island in 1968 the Catholic Bishops' Conference took the side of the workers and issued a joint statement entitled, "Let us overcome the current absurdities" in which the bishops denounced human rights's abuse and exploitation of workers. The positive participation of the bishops in the realization of social justice was a good opportunity for the Church to be reevaluated by Korean society. This period was for the Church a time of building up its theoretical foundation of social justice and potential of resistance against injustice and repression of Yushin System.