By Jin Yu-young
Out of all the different roles in society, religious leaders are expected to have the highest morality and integrity, as they have the job of guiding their followers to righteousness. Many recent cases, however, prove the opposite as several of the world's most prominent religious leaders have been called out for their unethical behavior.
|Manmin Central Church pastor Lee Jae-rock enters the Seoul Central District Court in southern Seoul, May 3, to answer questions from a judge reviewing a request for a warrant for his arrest. / Yonhap|
First, the head of the Jogye Order of Buddhism, Seol Jung, is suspected to have smuggled large sums of money into the account of an accomplice on multiple occasions. He is accused not only of that, but is also suspected to have lied about his academic background at Seoul National University. The Jogye Order has confirmed this lie and has released an official apology.
Another monk of the Jogye Order, Monk Hyun Eung is currently under scrutiny for accusations of sexual harassment. According to MBC's investigative program PD Notebook, the monk, who is in charge of education at Jogye Order, is also accused of being seen at an adult entertainment enterprise, which is not only illegal in South Korea, but is considered a highly sacrilegious act.
In response, Monk Hyun Eung has expressed his outrage and claims these statements as slander. During a press conference last week prior to the airing of the program, he said he would quit if the allegations surrounding him are found to be true. He threatened MBC not to air the then-scheduled program and said MBC President Choi Seung-ho should step down if those allegations are not based on facts.
Then he requested the court to prohibit the broadcast of this investigation. But the court turned him down.
In yet another case, Lee Jae-rock, pastor of Manmin Central Church in Seoul, has recently been banned from leaving the country after being accused of several accounts of rape. According to an unnamed witness, Lee asked her to meet him at an apartment at which he had sex with her without her consent.
Six women have stepped forward with claims against Lee. It is reported that Lee gave the women large sums of money following sexual intercourse. He is accused of having sexually harassed women attending his church since the late 1990s. The Seoul Central District Court issued an arrest warrant for the pastor and he has since been put behind bars.
Oh Yoon-sung, a professor of criminology at Sun Chun Hyang University, said one of the reasons illicit activities continue to happen is because of the religious hierarchy and a lack of oversight from within.
"The allegations surrounding religious leaders are shocking, partly because such things occur in recognized religions, not cults," he said.
"So many people are wondering how such things could happen and even continue to happen. I think one of the reasons is that the relationships between religious leaders and their followers are hierarchical, so the latter is discouraged from reporting what they had gone through."
Manmin Church was ejected from the Korean Christian Association over Lee making "heretical claims" of immortality, and many Christian groups accuse him of being a cult leader.
Like Pastor Lee or the Buddhist monk implicated in sexual assault, Oh said religious leaders exert considerable influence within their religious organizations as well as in the overall society and also control a lot of money they get from their followers.
"I think inside their organizations there would have been some who were aware of their flawed ethics and illicit activities," he said. "But they have remained silent for a long time because if they confronted them they would have feared their courageous acts would cost them their vested interests. These silent colluders are not free from responsibility."
Jin Yu-young is an intern at The Korea Times.