Congregation divided over leader Holy Korean Martyrs priest is accused of mismanagement

October 10, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

As members of Holy Korean Martyrs parish recently commemorated the first year at the church's new Woodlawn site, what should have been a cause for celebration instead found the Baltimore area's only Roman Catholic Korean parish deeply divided.

A sizable minority of Holy Korean Martyrs' parishioners are demanding the ouster of their leader, the Rev. Joseph Y. Kim, accusing him of fiscal and administrative mismanagement and of overstaying his welcome.

Kim, his supporters and the Archdiocese of Baltimore say the allegations lack merit.

Tensions have boiled over in recent weeks, and the two camps are openly feuding. After Mass on Sept. 13, when a parishioner rose to publicly question Kim, a scuffle ensued, and Baltimore County police were called in to mediate.

The next week, during the parish's anniversary Mass, members of the dissident group, who call themselves the Baltimore Korean Catholic Laity Group, met separately at Fort Smallwood Park in Anne Arundel County.

At the Mass, Bishop William C. Newman, who, as vicar of the eastern region of the archdiocese, has jurisdiction over the parish, admonished those present to heal the divisions.

"He asked us to turn the negative energy into positive energy; [he

said] that this is a turning point," said Boniface Kim, who is president of the parish council and is not related to Joseph Kim.

Archdiocese 'never listens'

Members of the group opposing the priest have met with Newman but are dissatisfied with his response. "The archdiocese never listens to us, just to what Father Kim is hTC saying," said Matthew Ban, a pharmacist who is a spokesman for the laity group.

The laity group, seeking more visibility, plans a public protest tomorrow morning outside the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in North Baltimore.

In a letter to the archdiocese in July, the laity group's complaints centered on possible bookkeeping inaccuracies in the parish's accounts and in a fund that raised more than $500,000 for a new church building.

The fund drive was discontinued after the archdiocese gave the Korean congregation the land and buildings formerly occupied by St. Lawrence Parish in Woodlawn. The Korean parish moved last October to Woodlawn from its previous home at St. Bernard Korean National Parish in Waverly.

The laity group's letter also accused Joseph Kim of administrative and personal shortcomings. Its main wish is that a rotation system be instituted in which a priest would serve for a set term and then be replaced.

When Joseph Kim came to the parish in 1988, he promised he would stay for only five years, Ban said. "People are afraid he will stay until retirement," he said.

Needed more time

Joseph Kim said that when he arrived, he had a four-year term that was imposed by his archbishop in South Korea. But once he got here, he decided that he wanted to help the first-generation Koreans, particularly the elderly, with the difficult adjustment to American culture. To do that, he needed more time.

So, in 1992, he applied for incardination, which would make him a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. When that happened, a group of parishioners formed to oppose him. The group filed a complaint with Bishop John H. Ricard, then urban vicar of Baltimore, containing several allegations. After an investigation, archdiocesan officials supported the priest.

After that, 20 to 30 families who opposed him left the parish, Joseph Kim said. Some of those families have returned to join the parishioners who formed the laity group opposing him. Joseph Kim estimated that the laity group includes about 50 of the parish's 350 families.

The archdiocese says it is standing by Joseph Kim and is continuing the incardination. As part of that, Kim will undergo an evaluation by his staff and a group of parishioners.

'No substance' to complaints

"We take seriously what parishes say about our pastors and their administration," Newman said. "From our investigation, we came to the conclusion that it didn't really have substance to warrant any negative action on our part. However, since they questioned his financial management style, I've called for an audit of the parish."

The parish must submit quarterly and yearly financial reports. Holy Korean Martyrs has submitted its reports regularly, and there have been no irregularities, said the Rev. Patrick M. Carrion, associate director of the archdiocesan Division of Clergy Personnel.

"I feel bad about the disunity," Newman said. "If there was something seriously wrong, we would have done something. But nothing I see there warrants any action."

Pub Date: 10/10/98

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