Cries of abuse in Catholic Church start to be heard in Japan

TOKYO — During Pope Francis’ recent visit to Japan, Harumi Suzuki stood where his motorcade passed by holding a sign that read: “I am a survivor.”

Katsumi Takenaka stood at another spot, on another day, holding up his banner that read, “Catholic child sexual abuse in Japan, too.”

The two are among a handful of people who have gone public as survivors of Catholic clergy sexual abuse in Japan, where values of conformity and harmony have resulted in a strong code of silence.

But as in other parts of the world, from Pennsylvania to Chile, Takenaka and Suzuki are starting to feel less alone as other victims have come forward despite the ostracism they and their family members often face for speaking out.

Their public denunciation is all the more remarkable, given Catholics make up less than 0.5% of Japan’s population. To date, the global abuse scandal has concentrated on heavily Catholic countries, such as Ireland, the U.S. and now, many countries in Latin America.

All of which could explain why the Catholic hierarchy in Japan has been slow to respond to the scandal, which involves not only children being sexually abused but adults in spiritual direction — an increasingly common phenomenon being denounced in the #MeToo era.

In a recent case, police were investigating allegations by a woman in Nagasaki, the region with the greatest concentration of Catholics in Japan, that a priest touched her inappropriately last year.

Japanese media reports said the woman had been hospitalized for PTSD. Police confirmed an investigation was underway but the church declined to provide details, citing privacy concerns.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan launched a nationwide investigation into sexual abuse of women and children this year, responding to the Vatican’s demand for an ur...

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