“Only the tip of the iceberg”

A little light in the dark: Japan bishops' conference releases late abuse study © Harald Oppitz (KNA)

Japan's Catholic Bishops' Conference has released its long-awaited report on sexual abuse of children and adolescents by clerics and religious. It shows lack of reappraisal and cover-up.

The report was the result of a process that began in 2002, said the catch published in English on Tuesday on the website of the bishops' conference. Their chairman Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami apologized for the late publication. "Because of the difficulty of understanding the situation and inadequate survey methods, the report comes very late," said the Archbishop of Nagasaki.

Report does not give a complete picture of abuse in the church, but shows only the tip of the iceberg. "Sex crimes often remain hidden. In the case of tightly knit communities like church congregations, "it is particularly difficult for victims to make their voices heard," Takami acknowledged.

Careless handling of abuse cases by the church

Among the important findings of the report is the recognition that the church has been too cavalier in its handling of abuse cases. "The investigation has shown that bishops or religious superiors have in no case informed their successors about cases of abuse," the document says. There is also a problem of "incomplete or missing case files," he said.

To deal with abuse cases in the future, the church wants to establish investigative bodies staffed by "third parties" in all dioceses, religious orders and missionary institutions. They should examine whether the cases were handled appropriately; the diocesan bishop is to report the findings to the president of the bishops' conference within six months.

Information incomplete

The report documents a total of 15 anonymized abuse cases from the 1950s to the 2010s. The six female, seven male and other victims of unknown gender were between 6 and 17 years old.

According to the report, the perpetrators were seven Japanese priests as well as seven foreign missionaries and one Japanese missionary. Of the priests, two were suspended from ministry and eight were transferred within Japan or abroad. There was no information about the remaining five, it said.

In November 2019, Francis had become only the second pope to visit the Catholic minority of Imperial Japan. More than 80 percent of the 126 million Japanese belong to the two great religions of Buddhism and Shintoism. Christians as a whole account for about two percent of the population, while Catholics account for about 0.5 percent.

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