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Japan's Catholics ignore Church on birth control, say bishops

Survey results show ignorance and indifference toward Church teaching

Japan's Catholics ignore Church on birth control, say bishops

St. Mary's Cathedral, Tokyo (picture: Shutterstock)

June 9, 2014

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The Catholic bishops of Japan have acknowledged that the faithful are largely ignorant of Church teaching on marriage, and indifferent to Catholic stands.

In a response to the questionnaire circulated by the Vatican in preparation for the Synod of Bishops, the Japanese bishops reported that Catholics in their country “are more influenced by societal norms” than by Church teachings, “especially where birth control is concerned.” The Christian conception of marriage based on natural law “is not generally understood nor is it accepted.”

In addition to these failures to promote Catholic teaching, the Japanese bishops’ report said that preparation for marriage is “generally haphazard.” The report was signed by Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada of Tokyo, the president of the bishops’ conference.

Full Story: Japanese bishops report laity indifferent toward Church teaching on marriage



Main points of survey (compiled by

Selections taken from:


Conference of the Catholic bishops of Japan

It is not unusual for people to live together without marrying… Abortion and contraception are common, and many fetuses are buried before they are born... These phenomena and trends related to marriage apply to Catholics as well…

For the most part, people are unaware of teachings [of the Bible] and documents [of the Church on the family]. What they know is fragmentary at best, and comes from comments that they hear from priests who may not be well informed themselves… 

Generally speaking, people are only aware of the bans on abortion, artificial birth control, divorce and remarriage. They are more influenced by societal mores than by those teachings, especially where birth control is concerned… Even among Catholics, many people are critical of the Church’s stance toward contraceptive methods such as condoms…

In terms of faith education, on the national, diocesan and parish levels we must admit that there are no pastoral programs [for the family]. There are, of course, dedicated activities by dioceses, parishes, priests and parishioners, but they rely too much on individual efforts…

Even many Catholics do not differ from the common opinion in matters of divorce and remarriage as allowed in civil law, prenatal diagnosis, abortion etc. and they criticize the Church for its teaching on pregnancy and childbirth… Many people feel that teachings on divorce and separation violate conventional wisdom…

Marriage with unbaptized people and nonbelievers 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 usual practice is to require at least some premarital 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…

Marriage preparation is generally haphazard, with regular programs in some places, but in most situations it relies upon the interest and ability of the pastor. Marriage encounter and engaged encounter were introduced in Japan, and were popular for a while, but seem to have been something of a fad that has faded…

One respondent said: “Nearly all the couples I have married in the last few years had begun living together several months before the wedding. None among them recognized that it goes against the teachings of the Church…"

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…

Most divorced and remarried people are apparently indifferent… They have made the decision to either receive the sacraments or not and follow through on their decision… There are people who do not know that they cannot receive the Eucharist if they have remarried after divorce. Even among those who know, there are people who receive the Eucharist, and there are priests who do not say anything even if they know that fact…

There is no special ministry [for the divorced and remarried]. Pastors respond as pastorally as possible, but the People of God seem to have moved beyond the need of such ministry. They make decisions and live according to those decisions…

In Japan there is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships… The State does not promote such marriages and the Church has not developed a particular attitude toward the possibility of eventual change…

Contemporary Catholics are either indifferent to or unaware of the teaching of the Church [on birth control]. Most Catholics in Japan have not heard of Humanae Vitae… While there may be some mention of the Church’s teaching on artificial birth control in premarital instructions, most priests do not emphasize it… The moral teaching of Humanae Vitae is generally unknown and untaught, and where known it is not followed…

The Church in Japan is not obsessed with sexual matters… Apart from abortion, there seems to not be much of a sense of guilt regarding contraception…

While it is important to continue to stress the importance of the family and life, the Church must also present a healing, supporting and encouraging face to those who cannot fulfill the ideal rather than being judgmental and critical... 


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