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Japan bishops make Synod report public

Document offers frank look at life for Catholic population

<p>Oura Roman Catholic Church, thought to be the oldest church in Japan (picture: <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-578401p1.html?cr=00&pl=edit-00">Sean Pavone</a>/<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/?cr=00&pl=edit-00">Shutterstock.com</a>)</p>

Oura Roman Catholic Church, thought to be the oldest church in Japan (picture: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com)

  • ucanews.com reporter, Bangkok
  • Japan
  • February 19, 2014
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Japan's bishops have led the way in Asia by publishing the findings of their consultation with the nation's Catholics, in preparation for the October Rome Synod on the family.

The report is a straightforward account of what being a Catholic in a minority Church context means, where the challenges of a minority status constitute a challenge to the acceptance of views and Church teaching that may be persuasive in cultures where Catholics dominate the population.

Many of the views of the wider society about divorce, remarriage, contraception and abortion are taken for granted in Japan and the efforts to share Catholic views are hampered by the lack of resources that a small Church has.

For example, the appeal to familiar Catholic moral frameworks is unpersuasive. The Japanese Church reports: “Often when Church leaders cannot present convincing reasons for what they say, they call it “natural law” and demand obedience on their say-so. This has brought the whole concept of natural law into disrepute: ‘If it is natural, why do people need to be taught it?’”

It further adds: "Japanese culture emphasizes societal expectations rather than abstract principles as guides to action. So, though in the West 'natural law' may seem 'natural,' in Japan it is perceived as abstract and out-of-touch."

Ministry in Japan appears to be the same as that in most postmodern societies where Catholics, 75 percent of whom marry non-Catholics, accommodate issues of same-sex marriage.

According to the bishops’ findings, “same sex relationships have not yet become an issue as in some Western countries, but are likely to become an issue because Japanese society at large is becoming more tolerant of homosexuality, both as an orientation and a lifestyle. Transgender surgery followed by marriage is already finding legal acceptance. This tolerance is increasingly true of Catholics as well as society at large.”

The report also acknowledges a practice common in some parts of Asia but unknown in countries where Catholics are at least a significant minority: “Marriage between non-baptized people and non-believers using the Church’s rites has been a normal part of the Church’s activity in Japan for many years with the approval of the Holy See.”

The report add: “The usual practice is to require at least some pre-marital instruction that focuses on the Church’s vision of marriage. In addition, there must be no canonical impediments to marriage [such as divorce], though individual pastors generally tend to leniency.”

The report for the Synod recognizes that the challenges faced in communicating what the Church believes about family life are only intensified in a population where most Catholics marry non-Catholics, and where “the aging of the Catholic population at large, and clergy in particular, is making young Catholics less willing to be part of parish communities. As a result, they do not have opportunities to explore issues of sex and family life in a faith context.”

However, the report recommends the approach the Church should take in meeting the challenge is already set by Jesus: “In developing a pastoral orientation, it is perhaps important to recall that the only time in the gospels that Jesus clearly encounters someone in a situation of cohabitation outside of marriage [the Samaritan woman at the well] he does not focus on it. Instead, he respectfully deals with the woman and turns her into a missionary.”

For the full text of the 7,400 word Japanese report, visit: http://www.cbcj.catholic.jp/jpn/doc/pontifical/synodus/synodus14th/res_eng_sp3.pdf

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