Tokyo, Japan, Apr 13, 2019 / 06:01 am (CNA).- Catholic bishops in Japan have said they will investigate reports of clergy sex abuse of minors dating back at least as far as 20 years, and they believe many victims might still be reluctant to come forward.
Committees have been established in all 16 dioceses to receive claims and consultations about abuse, the Japanese bishops' conference said April 8, announcing the decision of the conference standing committee. The specifics of an inquiry are not yet decided, but it will revisit previous reports for an “in-depth investigation,” the Japan Times reports.
The bishops are considering seeking help from external bodies.
In 2002 an internal survey made inquiries with the leading priest in each diocese. This resulted in two reported cases of sex abuse.
A 2012 survey aimed to be a reference point in a manual for internal use. It did not aim to investigate facts or to resolve sex abuse. Five sex abuse cases were reported then.
These surveys’ results will now be investigated to examine whether accused abusers faced punishment and how bishops responded to the victims, the Washington Post reports.
A 2004 survey on sexual harassment found 17 cases of “coercive physical contacts,” mostly by priests. The victims included minors. That survey had 110 respondents.
“Many of the alleged cases such as coercive physical contacts were forced by priests,” said the bishops’ conference. “We believe there are still a significant number of people who cannot speak up even today, 15 years since the survey.”
A 62-year-old man came forward alleging sexual abuse by a priest when he was at a Catholic boys’ school in Tokyo. Other Catholic schools have faced sex abuse allegations as well.
The Japanese Times in 2014 reported on alleged abuse of minors at St. Mary’s International School in Tokyo beginning in 1965. At least one case was later investigated by police.
There are about 440,000 Catholics in Japan, making up 0.3% of the population.
Pope Francis is set to visit Japan in November. In February he held an unprecedented meeting with the world’s Catholic bishops on sex abuse of minors in the Church.
“Let it be clear that before these abominations the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes. The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case,” the Pope said in his December 21, 2018 annual Christmas speech to the Roman Curia.
The Pope’s own handling of sexual abuse cases came into focus especially in Chile, where he initially defended bishops accused of sex abuse coverup. He later asked for all the country’s bishops to offer their resignations.
In the United States, clergy sex abuse of minors in the Church peaked in the early 1970s, according to reports from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Though the scandal led to some news reports and internal church investigations in later decades, it did not become a nationwide focus until news reports in 2002 exposed scandal and coverup in Boston and across the country.
The sex abuse scandal again was inflamed in 2018 with the announcements of credible allegations of sex abuse of a minor against the deeply influential then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, followed by accusations that he sexually abused young adult seminarians.