A study done by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan has found 16 cases of sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy on minors since the 1950s.
A report released last week by the bishops’ conference revealed that some victims were elementary school pupils and another was a child under six years of age.
The report noted that “of those who were abused, one was under the age of six, five were between six and 12, and six were aged 13-17.”
The abuses took place in a priest’s room, church buildings, and other facilities run by convents including foster homes.
The accused are seven Japanese diocesan priests and eight religious or missionaries, seven of whom are foreign nationals, one Japanese, and one unknown.
According to the report, in four cases, the perpetrator admitted the abuse.
“There were five who denied the allegations. In seven cases, it is unknown if the accused admitted to or denied the charge,” it added.
In the cases of denial, there was one subsequent investigation by a third-party panel and another investigation by a church tribunal.
“In both cases, the results were kept secret,” said the report.
“In three cases for which no third-party panel was established the matter was dealt with privately, in the internal forum,” it added.
“As leaders of the Catholic Church in Japan we want to take this opportunity to apologize to the victims and all those affected,” said Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki.
The president of the bishops’ conference made the report titled “2019 Study on the Sexual Abuse of Minors by Clergy and Religious: Report and Issues” public last week.
Archbishop Takami said the bishops have conducted the study since 2002, but admitted that “due to difficulty in understanding the situation and inadequate survey methods,” the report is “very late.”
The report included issues the Church in Japan continue to face “that need to be addressed.”
The archbishop said they will “continue to work to understand the full reality” of the situation.
“Above all, we take these results seriously and are determined to do our best to prevent such things from happening again,” he said.
Since last year, church leaders in Japan have called for people, especially in the country’s 16 dioceses and convents, to come forward with reports of abuse regardless of when it occurred.
The shortest period from the abuse to a victim’s reporting it was less than half a year.
A lapse of 10 to 30 years was most common, according to the report, but it also took up 70 years for some victims to speak out.
The study also found that in many cases the perpetrators were not punished even as some were removed from the church.
It said that two clergy were suspended, one left the community, eight were transferred either overseas or domestically, and the outcomes of five cases are unknown.
“In many cases, there was discussion between the victim (and others) and the diocesan bishop or the superior of the religious or missionary institute,” read the report.
“If the perpetrator admitted to the allegations, a response was made in accordance with the wishes of the victim, in many cases reaching some form of settlement or reconciliation,” it added.
The report noted that “there were many cases where the process ended with an inadequate response such as an apology by the diocesan bishop or the superior.”
Of the known perpetrators, four have died, two have been laicized, three have been transferred to other dioceses, two continue to work in the same diocese without public knowledge of the case, and one is under medical care.
In its conclusion, the study said dioceses and religious and missionary institutes that were the subject of the investigation “shall establish new third-party investigative panels.”
“These panels shall examine whether cases were handled appropriately, and the diocesan bishop shall report the results to the bishops’ conference president within six months,” it said.
The church leaders said that even as the subject of the investigation was sexual abuse against minors, “we intend to more broadly consider sexual violence, and respond to it in manuals.”
The report said the Church and its institutions will work “to eradicate sexual abuse and sexual violence in the Church, including its educational and other related institutions.”
The Catholic Church, which has been facing allegations of child sexual abuse and coverups among its priests, has been attacked for not doing enough to address the issue.
Last year, Pope Francis recognized sexual abuse of minors as a “widespread phenomenon” and called for stronger measures to prevent it.