The leader of a radical, cult-like church in South Korea has apologized for his congregation’s role in spreading the coronavirus throughout the country.
Lee Man-hee, head of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, is expressing extreme regret after Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul, sued the fringe church, which the Korean government describes as a “cult,” for “murder, injury and violation of prevention and management of infectious diseases.”
On Sunday, Park reported 12 church leaders to the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office, according to a report from CNBC.
Outside China, South Korea has the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the official name for the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan. As of Monday morning, the total number of confirmed cases in South Korea was 4,212. Twenty-two people have died from the virus.
Two weeks ago, prior to the irresponsibility of the cult church, the number of confirmed cases in South Korea stood at about 30.
“We can handle the COVID-19 situation as soon as possible only when we forcefully investigate the 12 branch heads of the Shincheonji sect along with Lee Man-hee, the chairman of the sect,” said Park. “The prosecutors need to carry out a rigorous investigation and make sure it leads to a strict punishment on the Shincheonji leadership that is at the center of this crisis.”
Government officials believe the Shincheonji leadership and congregation are responsible for roughly 60% of the cases in the Asian country.
Lee, who claims to be the second coming of Jesus and promises to take 144,000 people with him into heaven on Judgement Day, has been accused of refusing to cooperate with efforts to stop the flu-like virus. Park believes the number of cases wouldn’t have skyrocketed so astronomically had the Shincheonji Church cooperated with outside efforts to quell the spread of the illness.
One member of the cult-like congregation, known only as “Patient 31,” attended two services at a church in Daegu, about 150 miles outside of Seoul. The 61-year-old woman spread it to many others and then traveled around the country prior to being diagnosed with the coronavirus. Furthermore, some of the sect’s members are believed to have traveled to Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.
The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention considers the Shincheonji incident to be a “super-spreader” situation. Because the church has faced criticism for its radical, cultish nature, it often operates under the radar and initially denied the government’s assertion of involvement in spreading COVID-19.
Now, though, its leader, Lee, is changing the story.
On Friday, the 88-year-old sect leader called the coronavirus the “devil’s deed to stop the rapid growth of Shincheonji,” adding during a press conference, “We did our best but were not able to stop the spread of the virus.”
“I’m really grateful, but at the same time, asking forgiveness,” he continued before bowing down to demonstrate his regret. “I never thought this would happen, even in my dreams.”
For what it’s worth, Kim Shin-chang, a spokesperson for the church, said its leaders initially declined to disclose the names of those who might have been exposed to the coronavirus due to concerns over the “safety of our members.”