An association of progressive Catholic priests apologized for sexual assault attempts by one of its members during an overseas mission trip several years ago.
The victim, a volunteer at the time, revealed on a KBS news program on Friday that a priest surnamed Han attempted to rape her multiple times during a mission trip to South Sudan in 2011.
The Suwon diocese suspended Han, saying he admitted to most of the victim’s claims.
He also left the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice where he served on its operating committee.
“We deeply repent for the wretched acts committed by Father Han seven years ago in South Sudan. … We ask the victim, who has suffered for a long time, for her forgiveness,” the association said in a statement issued Sunday.
“His sin is our sin as he is a brother and member of the association. … We also regret having failed to grasp the facts of what had happened and understand how the victim must have felt.”
Father Han was a respected figure leading a team of three priests and two volunteers who transported daily necessities and helped build schools and hospitals in South Sudan. He appeared on the 2010 documentary film “Don’t Cry for Me, Sudan” which featured the life of the late Catholic missionary and physician Father Lee Tae-seok who devoted his life to helping people in South Sudan.
The victim, Kim Min-kyung, said Father Han locked the door as she was leaving a dining area and tried to rape her. She said she suffered bruises on her wrist and a black eye as she resisted.
Kim said she told the two other priests the next day about his rape attempts, but nothing changed. One of them advised her to inform the diocese, and the other kept quiet. The Suwon diocese did not take any disciplinary measures against the two priests.
There have been several allegations of sexual abuse by priests in the past, but the latest revelation is drawing more attention as the victim has come forward using her real name amid the spread of the #MeToo movement.
A slew of sexual abuse accusations have been sweeping the nation’s arts and entertainment sectors after a female prosecutor last month went public with her experience of molestation by a senior prosecutor years ago.
“There are many such incidents (of sexual abuse) in the church. I would have taken it to my grave had it not been for the #MeToo movement,” Kim told KBS.
“I hope my daughter doesn’t go through something like this when she grows up. But if she does, I hope we have a society where she can talk about it instead of keeping quiet like me.”
Police are investigating another alleged sexual harassment case involving a senior member of the Catholic Human Rights Committee.
The man who held a managerial position on the committee is accused of sexually harassing a female activist in 2014. The victim wrote on social media that he spread rumors that it was done under mutual consent even after apologizing. The offender has admitted to the charges.
Encouraged by the #MeToo movement, a nongovernmental organization seeking to reform the Protestant church is hosting an event for victims of sexual abuse within the church to share their experiences.
The Protestant church has tried to cover up many cases of alleged sexual abuse by pastors in the past, and did not punish offenders properly even when their crimes were brought to light.
For example, the Presbyterian Church of Korea, despite mounting calls to defrock Pastor Chun Byoung-wook, did not expel him after the court ruled last year that he was guilty of molesting female churchgoers after seven years of continued testimonies.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com