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Parishioners protest against new priest at Flushing Chapel

Angered by the Brooklyn diocese’s decision to replace their priest without consulting them, parishioners at the St. Paul Chong Ha-Sang Roman Catholic Chapel and Center in Flushing are demanding an explanation and giving only pennies as offerings.

About 270 parishioners gathered for a demonstration outside the Catholic Migration Office in Bay Ridge last week, and 1,400 have signed a petition protesting the appointment of the Rev. Daniel Sang-bong Suh of the Brooklyn Diocese.

He filled the vacancy created when Rev. John Vianney Kim of the Seoul Diocese left the largest Korean Roman Catholic Church in the city June 4 when his term ended.

Peter Park of Douglaston, a former St. Paul parish council president who was one of the demonstration’s organizers, said he and other parishioners have no problem with Suh personally but object to the way the diocese inserted him into their community without prior notice.

“The way (the diocese) handled it was inexplicable, and that’s what makes our community angry,” Park said. “We’re the laymen and we should have been consulted about this.”

Park said the diocese has always acted in secrecy and in this case he believes it was particularly inappropriate. St. Paul parishioners deserve to know why the diocese changed their priest, he said.

Until this information is shared or similar steps are taken, Park said he plans to organize monthly demonstrations.

“We want some kind of accountability,” Park said.

Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for the diocese, defended Bishop Thomas V. Daily’s appointment, saying the church is in the Diocese of Brooklyn, so logically its priests should come from that diocese.

“The bishop uses advisers to recommend who might serve in a particular parish,” DeRosa said. “We have 218 parishes and he is obviously concerned that he find the right person.”

Park disputed the diocese’s use of advisers, saying they cannot know as much as community members about what the community needs.

“The bishop has proved that he can appoint anybody, but without the benefit of the community, what good is it?” Park said. “We think he was surrounded by the wrong people.”

DeRosa said Suh speaks fluent Korean but was not born in the Asian nation.

He said the archbishop of the Seoul, South Korea diocese approved Suh’s appointment and endorsed the Brooklyn diocese’s actions.

When Kim’s five-year term in Flushing was nearing an end, Park said, the church community was led to believe that his visa would be renewed so that he could remain at St. Paul. When it was not renewed, Kim had to return to South Korea and Suh replaced him, Park said.

“This way they handled it is not the Christian way,” Park said. “If they were going to make a change, why didn’t they tell us so our community could have been prepared emotionally?”

The St. Paul Chapel was established in 1985 to accommodate Queens’ growing Korean population and with more than 5,000 members, it is the largest Korean Roman Catholic church in the city, DeRosa said.

Citing the congregation’s size and relative wealth, protesters believe the diocese assigned them a Brooklyn priest for its own financial gain, Park said. As a result, parishioners have begun to give pennies as offerings, he said.

To apologize for offending the community, Daily visited St. Paul’s July 21, Park said, but protesters want more than an apology.

“If they did anything wrong, they should rectify it,” Park said.

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