FUKUOKA – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan said Monday it will open an internal investigation into claims of sexual abuse among its ranks against children in the country. The probe would be the first of its kind in Japan.
The standing committee of the bishops’ conference decided Thursday at a meeting in Tokyo that it will quickly launch an “in-depth investigation” into all 16 dioceses in Japan. Five reports of sexual abuse were made when the entity conducted questionnaire surveys in 2002 and 2012 throughout its dioceses.
The Roman Catholic Church has been facing accusations of child sexual abuse and cover-ups around the world. It has also faced condemnation for not acting quickly enough. Thousands of people, possibly more, are thought to have been abused worldwide by priests over many decades.
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. The five cases of abuse reported in the past will likely be revisited, as in-depth interviews with the victims and punishment of the perpetrators were not undertaken when the questionnaire surveys were conducted.
The Japan Times’ own reporting from September 2014 uncovered alleged cases of abuse of students by staff at St. Mary’s International School in Tokyo beginning in 1965. At least one of those cases was later investigated by Japanese police and the Archdiocese of the Catholic Church in Tokyo, according to a Jan. 31, 2014, letter signed by the headmaster at the time.
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.
It was not immediately clear if any of those cases were among the five likely to be revisited.
The decision to run the investigation comes about a month after the Roman Catholic Church held the unprecedented “Protection of Minors in the Church” conference, where Pope Francis recognized sexual abuse of minors as a “widespread phenomenon” and called for an “all-out battle” to defeat it.
The pope is scheduled to make his first official trip to Japan in November.
Last December, in his traditional Christmas address to the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration, the pope pressed predatory priests who have sexually abused children to turn themselves in “to human justice, and prepare for divine justice.”