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Ex-followers slam apology from Japan's Unification Church

Japanese branch of the controversial religious group apologized after govt sought a court order for its dissolution
Unification Church president Tomihiro Tanaka speaks at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo on Aug 10, 2022.

Unification Church president Tomihiro Tanaka speaks at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo on Aug 10, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 09, 2023 11:19 AM GMT
Updated: November 09, 2023 11:49 AM GMT

Former members of the Unification Church in Japan and lawyers have decried its public apology for receiving excessive donations as a move to evade its responsibility for the suffering and trauma caused.

Attorney Katsuomi Abe charged the church leadership of showing “no intention to face up to the damage created by the church” during a press conference in Tokyo on Nov. 7, the Asahi Shimbun reported on Nov. 8.

“While [Tomihiro Tanaka] avoided referring to the damage and tried to keep the church’s responsibility from being pursued, he pretended to be apologetic and empathetic with former followers and others,” Abe said.

Tanaka, president of the church’s Japanese branch, for the first time, apologized to former followers and children of followers for the hardships they endured in a press conference.

The apology came following the government requesting a court for a dissolution order in October.

Officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, the religious group was founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon.

Church is shifting blame, avoiding responsibility

Attorney Yasuo Kawai, secretary-general of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, alleged that Tanaka was shifting the blame to rank-and-file followers.

“[He] did not disclose what was excessive in seeking donations and why,” Kawai said.

A government investigation revealed that the church continued using dubious practices to solicit donations from followers and push “spiritual sales” of high-priced goods.

Reports say that large donations from followers resulted in misery for the families of the church members.

The church came under heavy scrutiny after Tetsuya Yamagami shot and killed Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on July 8 last year.

Yamagami reportedly said he targeted Abe for his ties to the church and had alleged that he and his family faced economic hardships after his mother made hefty donations to the church that bankrupted the family.

While Tanaka admitted the failure of the church missionaries to provide sufficient explanation or pay due consideration to the donors’ family and financial circumstances, he also said it was unclear who the victims were and how much damage they suffered.

Tanaka admitted there was a “lack of guidance” from the church and “sincerely” apologized to the second-generation followers and the people of Japan.  

“We will not lightly use the word ‘victim’ when the victim is unclear and the amount of damage is also unclear,” Tanaka said.

Reportedly, Tanaka carefully qualified his apology by distinguishing it from something that should be offered only after victims are identified.

“Discussions [on the donations issue], including its criminality, just began in court. It is unacceptable to consider all [claims for refunds] as ‘damage,’” Tanaka said.

“Apology was a sham”

An unnamed former church member in her 60s alleged that Tanaka’s apology was “nothing but a sham to dodge the dissolution order and deceive the public.”

“I became angry, but I was more appalled by the sheer lack of remorse,” the woman said.

“He just bowed his head as a formality. If the church really intends to apologize, its leader, Hak Ja Han Moon, should apologize,” she added.

Hak is Moon’s wife and currently leads the church after her husband died in 2012.

Another unnamed former follower in his 30s whose parents are still followers told the Asahi Shimbun that Tanaka’s “attitude of not admitting any responsibility on the part of the church” has not changed.

Right after Tanaka’s press meeting, a woman in her 60s, whose mother donated more than 100 million Japanese Yen (around US$663,000) to the church before her death alleged that the apology was “feigned” in a hearing in Japan’s assembly.

“Those victimized can never be convinced by a feigned apology with no admission of any legal responsibility,” the unnamed woman said.

“Does the church have no intention to provide relief to victims?” the woman added.

The woman also alleged that the apology was an attempt to stave off the impending dissolution order and possible legislation that lawmakers intend to use to “preserve” the church’s property and prevent transfers of its assets.

Church proposes fund deposit

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said that Tanaka’s offer to deposit six to ten billion yen with the government as funds for compensation was something that needed discussion and debate.

“A deposit can be made only when it is stipulated in laws and regulations. I understand that whether a deposit is approved is determined in accordance with laws and regulations,” Matsuno added.

Tanaka had claimed that the proposed amount was sufficient to cover the compensation demanded for about 120 victims through “collective negotiations.”

The fund would also cover additional claims made for refunds, although the church has recognized only 800 million Japanese Yen compensation as legally valid.

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