Congregation faces lawsuit over allegations of sexual abuse

Asahi Shimbun [Osaka, Japan]

November 16, 2023

By Maki Okubo

A Catholic woman will seek 30 million yen ($198,300) in a compensation lawsuit filed against the Nagoya-based Society of the Divine Word, saying she was sexually abused by a foreign priest in the congregation.

The woman, a nurse in her 60s living in Tokyo, said the religious congregation failed to take appropriate action against the priest, who has since left Japan, despite her complaints.

The lawsuit will be filed at the Tokyo District Court.

According to the woman and her lawyer, during “confession” at a church in Nagasaki in 2012, she told the priest about the sexual violence she had suffered as a child.

The priest told her that she would “have to start over,” and forced her to have sex with him repeatedly as “spiritual guidance” until around the end of 2017, she said.

She reported the priest’s actions to the counseling office and the head of the congregation’s Japan Province.

The congregation in 2019 decided to suspend the priest by giving him a three-year “out-of-mission life” away from communal living. It also provided him with 1 million yen and allowed him to return to his home country.

The woman said the congregation’s investigation into the priest was inadequate, and that he never apologized for his actions.

She said she wanted to sue the priest, but the congregation would not provide his whereabouts. So, she is suing only the congregation.

The woman said she continues to suffer from the effects of the sexual abuse and has been seeing a psychiatrist.

“I was victimized at a church where I sought salvation,” she told The Asahi Shimbun. “I want people to know that this kind of damage can happen when people take advantage of other people’s religious beliefs.”

Attorney Kazue Akita, who is representing the woman, said: “The priest used her confession to learn her grave secret and took advantage of it to repeat the sexual assaults. The congregation is systematically covering up the fact of sexual assault and the perpetrator.”

Keiji Arata, secretary-general of the congregation, told The Asahi Shimbun: “The priest denied any sexual activity. We would like to respond to the lawsuit after confirming its contents.”