Korean Translation of Book Highlights Difficulties of Church Language on LGBTQ Issues

Fr. Sim Jong-hyeok, SJ

Fr. Sim Jong-hyeok, SJ

Building a Bridge by Jesuit Fr. James Martin has been translated into Korean, making it the first book for LGBTQ Catholics in Korea.

The Korean Times reported that Fr. Sim Jong-hyeok, SJ, president of Sogang University, translated Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity because he saw LGTBQ Koreans suffering from discrimination and wanted to provide Catholic pastoral ministers with an LGTBQ counseling resource.

In the process of writing the translation, Sim noticed that the official Korean translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church had some errors, and he has suggested some new terms. He explained:

“The Korean church translated the original Catechism’s line ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,’ which is an important guideline in building a relationship with sexual minority groups, into ‘respect, pity and kindness.’ I made a correction to that part in the book. I assume the Korean Catechism apparently didn’t take into consideration the existence of the minority group when it first translated the rule.

“It appears that the mistranslation of the term is somewhat related to a lack of the Catholic Church’s understanding of homosexuality in the past. ‘I assume many would be uncomfortable with the ‘disordered’ tendency and that’s why the original translation had some (random) words like ‘pity’ and ‘kindness’ instead of ‘compassion’ and’ respect.'”

Moreover, Sim noted that while people’s understanding of sexuality has shifted, the Catechism has not changed with the times. He believes that the Catechism needs revision in order to reflect the times and help create a Catholic community that is more accepting of diversity. He commented:

“The Catechism can be very anachronistic as people have different thoughts on love nowadays. It has been teaching that the primary reason for sex acts is procreation. But now people think differently that sex acts between a husband and wife are an expression of love. Also, there are many people who have homosexual feelings around us. I heard two out of 10 are LGBT. The church also admits that there is not negligible number of people showing homosexual tendencies, but it still states it is a ‘disorder,’ making those people sad and God make a mistake.

“‘In many cases, people with homosexuality tendencies are physically and medically born that way. It is not a disease and thus not something that needs to be cured. If people with homosexual tendencies is a mistake, it is actually blaming God for creating a wrong existence.'”

Throughout the writing process, Sim consulted with LGBTQ Koreans, who suggested changing the rainbow on the book cover from seven colors to six, making it the symbol of the LGTBQ+ community.

After studying theology in the U.S. at Weston School of Theology (now the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry) and in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Sim realized how closed-minded the Korean culture and the church can be, especially in terms of diversity and inclusion of minorities. He commented:

“‘Of course, basically I think I am less prejudiced on any occasions than others. But studying in the U.S. which had a more open-minded atmosphere than Korea, helped me to build knowledge about homosexuality. I was surprised by the fact that people in the U.S., four out of 10, were left-handed. I never saw that in Korean society. I concluded that in Korean culture, there is a certain aspect that we think any kind of minority is abnormal. As society forces the left-handed person to use the ‘right’ hand in society, I assumed a similar thing was applied to homosexuality.'”

Overall, Father Sim has received positive feedback about the translation. LGTBQ people and their families have sent him emails to thank him. He noted, “One said that they didn’t fully understand the official stance of the church and didn’t know what to do. But the book became a good guideline for what to do when meeting homosexual people during a ministry.”

Commenting on this story, New Ways Ministry’s Associate Director, Robert Shine, said:

Building a Bridge emerged from an address Fr. Martin gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award back in 2016. Since then, it has been translated into a number of languages, helping prompt conversations around the world about how the church can be more inclusive of LGBTQ people. But as Fr. Sim’s translation problem points out, the conversation must go deeper. Problems exist when church leaders are not precise in their language. This has led to harm, as the word ‘pity’ is quite negative and far from ‘compassion.’ And then there is the Catechism’s harmful other language, too. Fr. Sim’s story highlights the power of language both to harm and to heal. The reality is that there must be a reckoning with the language used if the church is to truly move forward on LGBTQ issues.”

Beth Mueller Stewart, New Ways Ministry, July 14, 2021

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