Tokyo Priests Forbid Kneeling for Holy Communion

News: Crisis in the Church
by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  March 31, 2016   

Two priests in Japan defy Rome and local bishops — but demand obedience from parishioners

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TOKYO ( - Parishioners have been warned by two priests at a parish in Tokyo not to kneel for Holy Communion. In so doing, they're knowingly opposing the directives from Rome and from their own bishops' conference.

Fr. Russell Becker

The parishioners informed that they're too scared to kneel. One parishioner, Neil Day, said:

The situation is extremely volatile. If anyone kneels in front of either Fr. Grimm or Fr. Russell, they will be refused. The reactions of these two priests tends to be extremely rude where Fr. Grimm actually physically grabbed a woman by the arm to try and force her to stand.

For more than three years, Fr. Russell Becker, O.F.M., pastor of Franciscan Chapel Center in Tokyo, has been denying Holy Communion to those who kneel — in defiance of Rome and the Japanese bishops' conference (CBCJ). For the past several months, his assistant, Fr. Bill Grimm, a visiting priest from Thailand, has been doing likewise.

Both Rome and the Japanese Bishops' Conference (CBCJ) said communicants have the option to kneel for Communion. But when a parishioner brought this fact up, the Fr. Grimm responded, "[It] is not valid for you to decide to overrule the pastor when it comes to the administration of the sacraments at the Chapel Center."

Fr. Bill Grimm

Parishioners have documentation as far back as December 2015 of several instances of this ongoing abuse of power by both priests.

According to eyewitnesses, in January, Fr. Becker refused to give a parishioner Holy Communion because he was kneeling. After Mass the pastor reprimanded the parishioner for kneeling, and when he disagreed, Fr. Becker told him to leave the parish and never come back. The parishioner has since left the parish.

On another occasion last December, Fr. Grimm refused to give Holy Communion to a woman who knelt to receive. When she remained kneeling, he attempted to pull her up by the elbow. Failing to do so, he reportedly stormed away, saying that the "Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan" has banned the distribution of Holy Communion to those who kneel.

But in February, after parishioner Neil Day contacted Fr. Grimm with documentation from the CBCJ over communicants' right to kneel, the priest admitted in the correspondence that the CBCJ "allows for kneeling as an exception." He added, "That exception is not recognized at the FCC [Franciscan Chapel Center]."

The same day, the priest listed reasons for refusing to obey the mandate of the CBCJ to allow communicants to kneel. "The flow of traffic makes kneeling dangerous to other people" and "those who insist upon kneeling usually make a big show of doing so."

He then went on to admonish Day:

Might I recommend that until you have a couple of graduate degrees in theology, are ordained, have been appointed pastor by the archbishop and have decades of experience that you have the humility to assume that men who have those qualifications might actually know what they are about.

As reported by last November, a parish bulletin in Tokyo's St. Ignatius Church was directing communicants to stand when receiving Holy Communion. has been informed by sources in Tokyo that after reporting on the restrictions, St. Ignatius has subsequently relaxed its restrictions and now gives Communion to those who kneel.

Our report noted the CBCJ in their 2014 document referred to the universal option of kneeling granted by Rome in "Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani" (GIRM), which universally regulates rubrics for all Latin Rite Masses. Paragraph 160 of this document states, "Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel."

The CBCJ then quoted verbatim from yet another source, namely "Redemptionis Sacramentum," Rome's binding instruction produced by the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW), which governs the GIRM. The CBCJ quotes paragraph 90 of this document, writing, "However, It is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ's faithful solely on the grounds that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling."

In an interview discussing paragraph 90 of "Redemptionis Sacramentum," Cdl. Francis Arinze, prefect of the CDW, said,

The main point that we are making there is that the people are free. Even if the bishops have chosen standing, those who want to kneel are free to kneel. And no one has the right to say to them you are disobedient ... which means then that a Catholic, who is not forbidden to receive Communion, should not be denied just because the Catholic prefers to kneel.

Later in the same interview, Cdl. Arinze added, "Some people just punish others at the very supreme moment of receiving Holy Communion; they begin to give orders."

But at the Franciscan Chapel Center, Fr. Becker and Fr. Grimm are still denying Holy Communion to those who kneel, in spite of being made aware of Church law.

To learn more about problems with Communion in the hand, watch this episode of "Sleight of Hand: Reception Deception—Where Faith Goes Actions Soon Follow."


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