Senior South Korean cleric apologizes after priest accused of attempted rape

SEOUL (Reuters) - One of South Korea’s top Roman Catholic clerics made a public apology on Wednesday after a woman parishioner complained that a senior priest had attempted to rape her, as criticism over the incident grows.

The global anti-harassment movement, #MeToo, has only slowly taken off in South Korea, where discussion of sexual misconduct has long been taboo, and gender equality was ranked 118th among 144 nations by the World Economic Forum last year.

Archbishop Kim Hee-joong is the most senior church official to comment after Suwon diocese, 40 km (25 miles) south of Seoul, the capital, suspended the priest last week over the alleged rape attempt during a religious mission to South Sudan in 2011.

“The Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Korea somberly offers apologies to the victim and her family as well as those whom we have disappointed over the clerical sex abuse,” Kim, the head of the body, told a news conference.

The priest could not immediately be reached for comment. Reuters could not ascertain contact details for the woman.

Last week, the woman told national broadcaster KBS News she hoped the church can change for the better and South Korean society can build an environment for victims to speak out about their experiences of sexual abuse.

Police have not charged the priest.

The growing momentum of the #MeToo campaign has engulfed several high-profile South Koreans, veteran entertainers and actors among them, prompting President Moon Jae-in to urge law enforcement authorities to investigate sexual abuse claims.

Reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Clarence Fernandez