Members of Ending Clergy Abuse display photos of Barbara Blaine, the late founder and president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, during a protest by abuse victims on Feb. 23, 2019, in Rome. (Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)
Amid an increase in media interest in the sexual abuse of minors by clergy in Japan, bishops have issued the results of an investigation into the matter.
The April 5 issue of Katorikku Shimbun (The Catholic Weekly) published by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan (CBCJ) released the bishops’ report in full. It will be uploaded to the CBCJ website in Japanese and English on April 7.
The report is the result of a process that began in 2002 when the bishops conducted a preliminary study and issued guidelines for dealing with the abuse of minors.
In a cover message to the report, Nagasaki Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami, president of the CBCJ, apologized for the delay.
“Due to difficulty in understanding the situation and inadequate survey methods, this report is very late, but we have decided to now publish the results,” he said.
The investigation conducted by the CBCJ’s Desk for the Protection of Children and Women found 16 cases of abuse of children from the 1950s to the present. The largest number of cases, five, took place in the 1960s, and the abused minors were nearly equally girls and boys, though incomplete records make exact counts impossible.
The report does not give details of abusers, whether they were clergy or religious, male or female, nor of places since such details might jeopardize the privacy of the victims.
The report stresses that the investigation cannot give a complete picture of abuse in the Church.
“Sex crimes often remain hidden. In the case of a close-knit community like a parish, it is especially difficult for victims to raise their voice. The courageous people who have publicly spoken out, including those who responded to this survey, are just the tip of the iceberg. There is a great likelihood that there are still people who cannot speak up, and so the true number of victims of sexual abuse and sexual violence remains unknown,” the report states.
The report warns against complacency. “Therefore, dioceses, religious congregations and missionary societies where this survey did not turn up any cases should not leap to the conclusion that they have no cases. We need to review whether we have an environment in which victims can speak out with peace of mind, and the whole Church must work to eradicate sexual abuse and sexual violence.”
The investigation found that in no case did bishops or religious superiors inform their successors of abuse cases. There is also a problem of incomplete or missing files regarding cases. There was at least one case in which an abuser continued to function despite sanctions that were not enforced or monitored.
The report calls for follow-up action. “The dioceses and religious and missionary institutes that are the subject of this investigation shall establish new third-party investigative panels. These panels shall examine whether cases were handled appropriately, and the diocesan bishop shall report the results to the bishops' conference president within six months.”
Rumors of the pending release of the report have circulated for several months and may have aroused media attention to the issue.
Katorikku Shimbun broke precedent in its Nov. 24 issue when it published a letter from someone who had been abused by a priest. The writer described the lack of action by the priest’s superiors and the local bishop.
Shortly after that, Mainichi Shimbun, a national daily, carried an article that focused on a man who had been abused as a child.
Other media in Japanese and English have reported the story as well.
The CBCJ report closes with the recognition that since there has been abuse of adults as well as of minors, the bishops will now investigate those cases as well.