Japan Buddhist sect probes nun’s sexual abuse claims

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

March 6, 2024

By Agence French Presse, Tokyo

One of Japan’s biggest Buddhist sects said on March 5 that it has launched a probe after a nun accused a monk of sexually assaulting her for 14 years and an eminent priest of turning a blind eye.

The woman, reportedly now in her 50s, had previously accused the older monk of rape but authorities dropped her case in 2019, media reports said.

Going by her religious name Eicho, she went public with her allegations in January, telling a news conference that she suffered “sexual violence, intimidation and psychological confinement” at the hands of the monk at a temple in western Japan.

The Tendai sect of Buddhism, headquartered in one of Japan’s most spiritually important monasteries near Kyoto, began an investigation into the allegations on March 4, its spokesman told AFP.

An octogenarian “daisojo” — the highest priest ranking in Japanese Buddhism — left the man’s behavior “unaddressed and even encouraged it,” the nun said in January.

She has demanded that the sect strip the monk and the daisojo of their religious status.

The accused monk told public broadcaster NHK on March 4 that “there is nothing I can say at the moment,” and that he would cooperate with the sect’s probe if asked.

The nun said she hopes her going public will cast a spotlight on the extremely cloistered nature of temples that she warned can be a hotbed of sex crimes.

“In a culture passed down for ages, temples have been protected thanks to their seclusion from the outside world,” she said.

She added that many in the throes of despair who seek solace from priests are predisposed to have blind faith in them.

“This kind of religious faith can be easily exploited to brainwash them and subject them to sexual abuse”, Eicho warned.

“I spoke out because if I stayed silent, more people can be victimized, and that would be remiss of me.”

Victims of sexual violence rarely go public in Japan, where the #MeToo movement picked up late and where many women are thought to be too fearful to come forward.

But a handful of high-profile cases are heralding change such as Rina Gonoi, whose fight against sexual assault in the army saw her awarded at the White House in Washington this week.