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Head of Korea’s Jogye Order Reverses Decision to Step Down

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Venerable Seoljeong, the presiding executive of the Jogye Order of South Korea, the country’s largest Buddhist order, announced on Monday, that he intends to remain in office until the end of the year, rather than resign later this week, as was originally announced. Instead, the senior monk noted that he intends to oversee the development of a plan to reform the order before leaving his post.

“Despite any sorts of misunderstanding and allegations, I will resign from the post of executive chief on 31 December 2018, after laying the foundation for the order’s reform,” said Ven. Seoljeong during the impromptu news conference at the order’s headquarters. (Yonhap News Agency)

Venerable Seoljeong during Monday’s press conference. From yonhapnews.co.kr
Venerable Seoljeong during Monday’s press conference. From yonhapnews.co.kr

By comitting to stay on, Ven. Seoljeong is reversing an earlier statement, made on 2 August, in which he announced that he would step down on 16 August amid heavy criticism from reformist monks and the public over a series of scandals and corruption allegations that have shaken the reputation of the Jogye Order.

“I was initially inclined to step down [immediately] for the sake of the order’s stability, but decided that resigning would not be the best way for the order after witnessing the situation [of demanding my resignation] secretly and systemically led and coordinated by certain influential forces.” (Yonhap News Agency) 

The allegations against the 76-year-old monk include accusations of him forging his academic background, embezzling the order’s funds, and secretly fathering a daughter out of wedlock (monastics of the Jogye order have to take a vow of celibacy).  

Although he has admitted to lying about his college degree, Ven. Seoljeong has denied the other allegations, dismissing them as “completely groundless and fabricated with an evil intention.” (Yonhap News Agency) In an attempt to clear his name with regard to his alleged daughter, Ven. Seoljeong provided a DNA sample for testing. The whereabouts of the alleged daughterare unknown, however, and even if she were found it is unclear whether she would be willing to cooperate with the investigation.

Supporters of Ven. Seoljeong on Sunday carrying a banner that reads: “Let's save Ven. Seoljeong from groundless allegations that trapped him.” From koreatimes.co.kr
Supporters of Ven. Seoljeong on Sunday carrying a banner that reads: “Let’s save Ven. Seoljeong from groundless allegations that trapped him.” From koreatimes.co.kr

The allegations have lead to a string of protests and has divided members of the Jogye Order and the public into two camps: supporters of Ven. Seoljeong, and a pro-reform faction calling for the re-organization of the order.

Amid the political rift within the order, the newly appointed deputy president of the Jogye order, Ven. Seongmun resigned last Friday after just a day in office. Ven. Seongmun was appointed deputy by Ven. Seoljeong last Thursday, in preparation for what was then scheduled as his immediate resignation. Ven. Seongmun was to take over the running of the order after Ven. Seoljeong stepped down, but immediately after his appointment was announced, pro-reform monks raised questions concerning the suitability of Ven. Seongmun, stating that he was in league with “corrupt elite monks.” (Korea Joongang Daily)

Some of the notable senior monks who have joined the call for Ven. Seoljeong’s resignation are Ven. Seoljo, who undetook a 41-day hunger strike* to force the order to investigate the allegations, Ven. Jasung, Ven. Seoljeong’s predecessor who endorsed Ven. Seoljeong  during the election last year but has recently announced that he is drafting a motion of no-confidence, and the order’s supreme patriarch, 82-year-old Ven. Jinje.

Ven. Seoljeong started his four-year tenure as the chief executive of the Jogye Order in November last year, having been elected a month earlier. As the executive, Ven. Seoljeong controls all of the order’s the financial and administrative decisions. This vast concentration of power is often cited as one of the reasons for the heightened criticism and renewed allegations against the monk.

A meeting of an emergency council of senior monk set up to discuss the latest occurrences has been planned. The council has the power to impeach Ven. Seoljeong.

The Head of Korea’s Largest Buddhist Order Apologizes for Corruption Furor (Buddhistdoor Global)

See more

Executive chief of largest Buddhist sect refuses to resign soon despite corruption allegations (Yonhap News Agency)
In about-face, Buddhist leader says he won’t go (Korea JoongAng Daily)
Jogye’s deputy president quits after single day (Korea JoongAng Daily)
Leadership vacuum intensifies infighting in Jogye Order (The Korea Times)

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