TOKYO — The Catholic Church in Japan is preparing to investigate allegations of sexual abuse against minors by its priests, including accusations from 20 years ago, amid widening pedophilia scandals.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Japan said Thursday it has established a committee to examine all 16 of the country’s dioceses, but details of an investigation haven’t been decided.
The conference said surveys found two reported cases in 2002 and five in 2015, which weren’t disclosed or verified. It said they will be retroactively investigated.
The decision comes after Pope Francis convened a bishops’ summit in February to press responses to worldwide scandals.
He is expected to visit Japan in November in the first papal visit to the country since John Paul II in 1981.
Japan’s Catholic community is about 440,000, or 0.3 percent of the population.
Details of the upcoming probe in Japan, including the starting date and the specific process, will be decided later, with the bishops’ body considering seeking cooperation from external parties. Some abuse cases have already come to light, including reporting from the Japan Times in 2014 about alleged cases of abuse of students by staff at St. Mary’s International School in Tokyo beginning in 1965.
St. Mary’s is run by the Brothers of Christian Instruction, a Catholic order founded in France in the 19th century that has schools on every continent.
“Japan’s Catholic Church is small, and we are not sure what we can do” about child sexual abuse, Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami told the New York Times by telephone on Monday. Takami is the president of the Japanese bishops’ conference.
“But we think we have to pay attention to this issue,” he said.
The Japanese bishops issued anti-abuse guidelines in 2003, in response to a Vatican request for all bishops’ conferences to do so, and has updated those guidelines several times since.
Takami took part at a recent gathering in Tokyo in which a public servant named Katsumi Takenaka revealed that he had been abuse as a fourth-grade student by a German priest at a foster care center.
According to local media reports, Takami told Katsumi, ““We are sorry we’ve not been able to do enough and caused you to suffer.”
Crux staff also contributed to this report.