Japanese woman accuses SVD of abuse cover-up

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

November 17, 2023

The victim alleged that the congregation’s investigation into her allegations against the priest was ‘inadequate’

A Catholic woman in Japan has alleged the officials of the Divine Word religious congregation covered up the crimes of a priest, who sexually abused her for five years.

The unnamed woman in her 60s living in Tokyo said she will sue the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) for allegedly helping the abuser, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported on Nov. 16.

The woman said a Divine Word priest abused her between 2012 and 2017 at a church where she sought help, according to the report.

She plans to file a lawsuit at the Tokyo District Court against the SVD congregation for 30 million Japanese Yen (around US$198,300) in compensation.

Reportedly, the abuse began in 2012 at a church in Nagasaki.

According to the woman, she told the priest about the sexual violence she had suffered as a child during her confession.

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, the woman alleged.

She later reported the priest’s actions to the counseling office and the head of the congregation’s Japanese province.

Following an investigation, the congregation decided to suspend the priest in 2019 by imposing a three-year “out-of-mission life” away from communal living.

Allegedly, the congregation also provided him with around 1 million yen and allowed him to return to his home country.

The woman alleged that the congregation’s investigation into her allegations against the priest was “inadequate,” and that he “never apologized” for his actions.

The congregation had refused to share the whereabouts of the priest with the woman and hence she decided to sue the congregation for the damages and trauma she suffered.

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

Attorney Kazue Akita, the woman’s lawyer alleged the priest of taking advantage of the vulnerable woman and accused the congregation of covering up abuse.

“The priest used her confession to learn her grave secret and took advantage of it to repeat the sexual assaults,” Akita said.

“The congregation is systematically covering up the fact of sexual assault and the perpetrator,” Akita alleged.

Father Keiji Arata, secretary-general of the congregation, said the priest had denied any misconduct and would wait for the details of the lawsuit to respond.

“The priest denied any sexual activity. We would like to respond to the lawsuit after confirming its contents,” Arata said.