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A Jogye Order official backs up monk

By Baek Sung-ho, Kim Mi-ju, JoongAng Daily, March 24, 2010

Seoul, South Korea -- Kim Yeong-guk, a senior external affairs official of the Buddhist Jogye Order, yesterday backed up Venerable Myeongjin’s accusations that Grand National Party Representative Ahn Sang-soo interfered in internal temple affairs.

<< Venerable Myeongjin, center, weeps after he told of a politician’s alleged interference in Bongeun Temple’s management at Bongeun Temple in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul.

“What Venerable Myeongjin said [about the GNP floor leader] at last Sunday’s service was true,” Kim said during a press conference at a Buddhist NGO building in Jangchung-dong, central Seoul. “I organized the Nov. 13 meeting at a restaurant in a hotel and I was also there. It was inappropriate for a ruling party floor leader to say senior monk Venerable Myeongjin was a leftist to Venerable Jaseung, who is the Jogye Order’s senior leader.”

Myeongjin, head of the Bongeun Temple in southern Seoul, said Sunday that Ahn met Jaseung last Nov. 13 in a restaurant at the Seoul Plaza Hotel and said he “shouldn’t keep a monk at a rich temple in southern Seoul who’s critical of the current government.”

Myeongjin said he heard the story from Kim who had dinner with Ahn, Jaseung and Ko Heung-kil, the GNP lawmaker who heads the broadcasting committee in the National Assembly. Earlier this week, Ahn acknowledged he met with Jaseung and Ko but said that Kim wasn’t there. He said he and Ko are Catholic and don’t know who Myeongjin is.

“Ahn denies he had such a conversation in November, but the truth does not disappear by denying it,” Kim said.

Jaseung has remained silent about the matter.

“I told Myeongjin about the conversation [we had at the hotel restaurant] and Jaseung met Myeongjin on Nov. 30 and confirmed the story,” Kim said.

The controversy heated up further after Myeongjin said on an MBC radio show on Monday that Ahn is lying, that he has had lunch with Ahn on Buddha’s birthday and other Buddhist events for a decade and they even shared personal stories.

“When the time comes, the truth will be unveiled,” Myeongijin said in the interview. “If he [Ahn] says he doesn’t know me well despite the fact that we know each other very well, he’s lying or he really has a bad memory.”

Yesterday, Ahn said there was no pressure put on the order’s decision to place the Bongeun Temple under its direct management and said he will not react to this issue any more as “it’s a temple management dispute in the Jogye Order.”

On March 11, the Jogye Order decided that the Bongeun Temple, in southern Seoul, should be run under direct management of the Jogye Order and not autonomously. The decision was made despite fierce protests from Bongeun Temple officials.

Myeongjin then told of the alleged conversation Ahn had with Jaseung and suggested there was pressure from political circles to make the decision.

If the Bongeun Temple is placed under the direct management of the Jogye Order, the current head of the temple might have to quit his job and be replaced by a Jogye official.

Meanwhile, the Jogye Order didn’t confirm whether Ahn and Jaseung had such a conversation about Myeongjin, but maintained yesterday there was no political pressure behind the Jogye Order’s decision to have the Bongeun Temple run under its direct management.

“No one can intervene in personnel appointments of the Jogye Order,” said Venerable Wondam, a Jogye Order spokesman. “If there was even a tiny bit of pressure by outsiders it could not be tolerated.”

Wondam gave a press briefing hours before Kim’s.

“Venerable Jaseung met over 4,000 figures since he was sworn into office as administrative leader and GNP Representative Ahn is just one of them,” Wondam said. “I cannot confirm every minute detail of the people Jaseung met. [But] the Jogye Order absolutely doesn’t decide matters by a politician’s words.”

Democratic Party spokesman Noh Young-min demanded that Ahn offer a public apology and retire from politics. “He shouldn’t have said things that damage the separation of church and state,” Noh said.

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