By Park Si-soo
Ahn Sang-soo, floor leader of the ruling Grand National Party, is facing increasing pressure to admit his alleged attempts to remove the head monk of a Seoul temple and attempts to meddle in the internal affairs of Korea's largest Buddhist sect.
"The revelation Rev. Myeongjin made in his sermon last Sunday was absolutely true," Kim Young-kook, a Jogye Order official, told reporters during a press conference, Tuesday.
"I organized Rev. Jaseung's luncheon with Ahn on Nov. 13 last year and I was sitting next to them throughout the meeting."
The scandal surrounding Ahn erupted after Rev. Myeongjin of Bongeun Temple in southern Seoul, which is under the wing of the Jogye Buddhist Order, made the surprising statement in his sermon last Sunday that during the November luncheon, the conservative legislator described him as "leftist" and asked Rev. Jaseung, an executive chief of the Jogye Order, to replace him.
The monk quoted Ahn as saying, "Should a monk so critical of the government be allowed to lead a temple in affluent southern Seoul?"
Kim said he informed Rev. Myeongjin of these controversial remarks over phone.
"I thought Ahn's description of the monk as a person with an ideological bias was inappropriate," said Kim.
"I don't think of it was just a joke or slip of tongue. Ahn should openly respond to this controversy."
The four-term lawmaker has denied the allegation, saying he does not even know who the head monk is. But he has refused to elaborate.
"His denial cannot hide the truth," Kim stressed.
Ahn and the governing party did not immediately react to Kim's attack. The executive chief of the order also remains tight-lipped.
But opposition parties lashed out at the ruling party leader, calling the scandal "the tip of the iceberg."
Rep. Choi Moon-soon of the main opposition Democratic Party said in a radio interview, "It's a widespread rumor that two liberal-minded senior monks will soon lose their posts. One of the two is Rev. Myeongjin."
Choi added this case is not isolated, saying, "As far as I know, the conservative party and an intelligence agency have pressured executives of the order to replace liberal monks."
This is the latest in a series of disputes between Korean Buddhism and aides of President Lee Myung-bak.
The bad blood between the two sides has continued since the inauguration of President Lee, a devout Christian.
For example, the government earned the ire of Buddhists by dropping all their temples and shrines from the new national geographical information register.
Some Buddhists also regard it as no coincidence that up to 40 percent of the nation's polling booths have been set up in churches over past few years. Adding fuel to fire, the police even stopped and searched the car of the executive chief of the Jogye Order in relation to the months-long candlelit protest against U.S. beef imports in 2008.
제보자, 안의원이 ‘진보적’스님 교체 요구했다고 폭로
안상수 한나라당 원내 대표는 서울의 한 주지스님을 비난하며 최대 불교 종단인 조계종의 내부 문제에 간섭하려 했다는 것을 인정하라는 거센 압력에 직면해 있다.
김영국 전 한나라당 부대변인은 화요일 기자회견에서 “명진 스님이 지난 일요일 법회에서 한 발언은 모두 사실”이라며 “작년 11월 13일 안대표가 참석한 자승스님과의 오찬은 내가 주선해서 이루어졌으며 처음부터 끝까지 동석했다”고 밝혔다.
이 스캔들은 조계종 산하에 있는 강남 봉은사 주지인 명진 스님이 지난 일요일 법회에서 작년 11월 한 오찬에서 보수성향의 안대표가 자신을 “좌파”라며 조계종 총무원장인 자승스님에게 교체를 요구했다고 폭로하면서 알려졌다.
명진스님은 “현 정권에 저렇게 비판적인 강남의 부자 절주지를 그냥 드면 되겠느냐?”라고 안대표가 얘기했다고 말했다.
김씨는 전화로 이 같은 논란의 소지가 있는 말을 명지스님에게 알려주었다.
집권 한나라당의 부대변이었던 김씨는 “스님이 이념적으로 편향돼 있다고 한 안대표의 말이 적절치 않다고 생각했다”고 밝혔다.
“단지 조크나 말실수라고 생각하지 않습니다. 안대표는 공개적으로 이 논란에 반응을 보여야 합니다.”
4선의원인 안 대표는 그 스님이 누구인지도 모른다며 이 같은 주장을 부인했다. 그러나 안대표는 부연 해명하기를 거절했다.
김씨는 “그가 부인한다고 진실이 감춰질 수는 없다”고 말했다.