ucanews.com correspondent, TokyoUpdated: May 27, 2013 06:24 PM GMT
The headquarters of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Japan in Tokyo. The CBCJ first issued guidelines on dealing with sexual abuse cases involving children in 2003
When the Catholic Church in Japan admitted instances of sexual abuse in 2002 and later issued guidelines to bishops on how to address the problem, it broke a silence which continued in many countries in Asia and further afield.
A decade later, the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Japan (CBCJ) is again set to lead Asia on transparency in addressing sexual abuse – some would say years too late – as it plans to publish for the first time a revised set of guidelines finalized at the end of March. After two years revising the new document, the CBCJ has said it will be published online in the summer.
“Ten years ago, perhaps the bishops could not have dealt with the problem,” said Bishop Goro Matsuura, an auxiliary of Osaka and a member of the CBCJ’s women and children’s’ rights desk which wrote the guidelines. “This [new] manual is a first step in showing that the Church’s posture in sincerely dealing with the problem.”
The revised guidelines by the CBCJ – a 15-page document – emphasizes that responsibility for dealing with allegations of abuse lies with bishops.
In taking responsibility for dealing with such cases, bishops must "remember the pain of the victim, remove the suspected perpetrator, ascertain the truth, offer apologies and deal with the cases with the best of intentions and responsibility in order to restore credibility," say the new guidelines.
Other steps to be taken in Japan include counselors to be made available to victims of abuse in each diocese.
Revisions to Japan’s guidelines on dealing with sexual abuse within the Church follow a decree by The Vatican which called for national bishops conferences to submit their frameworks for addressing the problem by May last year. By February, 25 percent of the world’s bishops conferences had still not filed these guidelines, according to a report last month in the Wall Street Journal.
The CBCJ were effectively already compliant and filed their guidelines with The Vatican on time.
In 2002, Japan was already years ahead of many other countries in the region when it issued a message acknowledging that “we have found that there have been cases … of clergy and the religious sexually abusing children,” the first such admission in the country.
Guidelines on dealing with abuse were drawn up a year later, but never published, as the CBCJ set up its Protection of the Human Rights of Women and Children Desk.
In October, 2004, the CBCJ ran a full-page questionnaire in the national Catholic weekly, Katorikku Shimbun, calling for witnesses to abuse by members of the church to come forward as part of a survey. The CBCJ received 110 replies: 86 from women and just two from children.
"Among the replies was one that said: ‘This is the first time the Church has listened to the voices of victims like me,’” said Bishop Matsuura. “Until then, victims had to keep silent about relations between clergy and laity."
Sister Haruko Ishikawa, director of the CBCJ’s Department for Social Concern, said that rumors of other abuses soon emerged.
“But we could not act based on rumors,” she said. “However, if accusations are made by victims or their parents, it is important to react immediately.”
In March 2006, the CBCJ’s children and women’s rights desk prepared a pamphlet about sexual harassment based upon the survey findings, and three years later issued a leaflet called Sexual Abuse of Children.
Both publications were distributed nationwide. The desk also recommended setting up desks to deal with abuse in each of Japan’s 16 dioceses.
In December 2011, the CBCJ sponsored a study session on sexual abuse in Tokyo for all the nation’s bishops and seminarians.
Bishop Matsuura repeated what has become an increasingly common refrain within the Catholic Church in recent years following much criticism: A need for greater transparency and accountability.
"The experience of the Church in America and elsewhere has shown that any attempt to deal with the problem solely within the Church is a disaster,” he said. “The church must view sexual abuse as a crime.”