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No matter where he goes, there they are. During his papal visit to Japan in late November, in a country where Catholics make up only .05% of the population, Pope Francis was, once again, met along his motorcade route by survivors of clergy sexual abuse carrying signs of protest.
Japan's culture of conformity — in which people avoid drawing attention to themselves — has fostered a code of silence about clergy abuse that is being broken. Japanese survivors increasingly are willing to put themselves in the spotlight.
There is now a Japanese chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Its leader is Harumi Suzuki, a nurse who went to her priest in 1977 for counsel regarding her abusive husband and other personal problems. Her story is all too familiar; after explaining her situation to the priest, she soon found herself in a bedroom with the naked priest on top of her.
Her story and those of other survivors are no different from what has been reported in other countries in the West. Katsumi Takenaka, another survivor who came forward publicly, was abused as a child at the Salesian Boys' Home in Tokyo, where he was placed after his parents divorced.
Takenaka's alleged perpetrator was Rev. Thomas Manhard, a German priest. While examining the boy for injuries he suffered from beatings from other boys at the home, the priest removed the boy's clothes. Fondling and other sexual acts followed and went on for months until the priest was transferred.
In 2014, another Tokyo Catholic institution was implicated in a sexual abuse allegation. Saint Mary's International School is an elite school for boys. Former students accused both Brothers Benoit Lessard and Lawrence Lambert of sexual abuse. Lambert was St. Mary's elementary school principal, and Lessard was a teacher at the school's annual summer "nature" camp.
Sylvia's Site, a Catholic news site reporting on clergy abuse primarily in Canada but also other places in the world, shared insights from one abuse victim, Teja Arbodela:
As well as nature excursions, involving activities such as collecting insects ... the [St. Mary's nature] camp also included a sex education component. This ... began with all the students attending a lesson together, which included watching a film about sexual reproduction. This was followed by one-on-one consultations with Lessard.
The clergy abuse scandal has not gone entirely unacknowledged by the Japanese Catholic hierarchy. In September 2016, Pope Francis approved the establishment of a day of prayer for survivors of abuse, leaving it up to each nation's bishops' conference to decide when the memorial should be held. In December 2016, Japan's bishops called for the first such observance to be held on March 17, 2017.
On Dec. 14, 2019 the Associated Press reported:
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 urgent response to the global crisis. ... The Japanese bishops' conference has said it carried out various investigations since 2002, but the names of the accused, the nature of the allegations or any other details have never been released.
Takenaka believes the Church's apologies are sincere but doesn't sense any urgency on the Church's part.