Women pray during a Mass at the Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, Japan, Aug. 9, 2013. (CNS photo/Kyodo, Reuters)
The day before the College of
Cardinals will gather in Rome to prepare for October’s General Assembly of the Synod
of Bishops on the family, the bishops of Japan released the results of a survey
of that country’s Catholic leaders concerning several teachings and practices of
the Church. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan presented the
questionnaire distributed worldwide by the synod secretariat to individual
bishops, the heads of male and female religious communities, and “various lay
and clerical experts”; the summary of the responses they received was published
on the conference’s website in Japanese and English (PDF).
Noting that Catholics make up a
mere .35 percent of the Japanese population and that as a result “opportunities
to influence society with Gospel values and teachings are severely limited,”
the Japanese bishops see a wide divergence between the teachings of the Church
and the beliefs and practices of many Japanese Catholics. They also state that despite
these limitations, opportunities for evangelization exist in Japanese society,
even if the Church has often failed to utilize them:
keeping in mind the various problems that face family life today, it is important
to remember and emphasize the strengths of the traditional Japanese family. Without
any need of encouragement, invitation or cajoling, Japanese still take part in
funerals or weddings as a normal requirement. Such is the power of tradition
that cannot be ignored. The Church must make use of this. The Church often
falls short in this, presenting a high threshold for entry and lacking
hospitality and practical kindness.
In response to a question about Humanae Vitae and Church teaching on sex
and family life, the Japanese bishops state:
Catholics are either indifferent to or unaware of the teaching of the Church.
Catholics in Japan have not heard of Humanae vitae. If they have, they probably
do not make it an important part of their lives. Social and cultural values as
well as financial considerations are more important.
3. While there
may be some mention of the Church’s teaching on artificial birth control in
pre-marital instructions, most priests do not emphasize it. A Catholic married
to a non-Christian might find the teaching impossible to follow.
4. There is a
big gap between the Vatican and reality. Condom use is recommended in sex
education classes in schools.
On the topic of annulments, the
bishops state that the simplification of the Church’s process is “not only
needed, it is essential,” and point out that the current process is predicated
on the marriage of two Catholics, whereas most Catholics in Japan marry
The bishops of Japan do not go as
far as those of Germany, however, who also published the
results of their survey of Catholics and used that as an opportunity to
call for a re-evaluation of the Church’s ban on the reception of Communion by
divorced and remarried Catholics. In Japan, on the other hand, “Most people in
such situations are apparently indifferent. Some may cut their ties to the
Church rather than face judgmental attitudes,” the bishops state.
The bishops’ report concludes:
It is necessary
to supplement the pastoral care of people facing difficulties in their family
life with a vision of the Church’s teachings about marriage and the family.
Further, it is necessary to go beyond merely saying to men and women who do not
follow Church norms that they are separated from the community and actively
provide them with opportunities to encounter the Christian community. At
present, it is difficult to claim that in our parishes the necessary attitudes
are common, or that the understanding of marriage itself has not been watered
down even among Catholics.
and topics of this survey have been developed with the mindset of Christian
countries in which the entire family is Christian. For example, religiously
mixed marriages seem to be considered a problem. However, in Japan, the
overwhelming majority of marriages involve mixed religions. In this context, we
must ask what a Christian household and family mean. …
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.