TOKYO -- During Pope Francis' recent visit to Japan, Harumi Suzuki stood where his motorcade passed by holding a sign that read: "I am a survivor."
Katsumi Takenaka stood at another spot, on another day, holding up his banner that read, "Catholic child sexual abuse in Japan, too."
The two are among a handful of people who have gone public as survivors of Catholic clergy sexual abuse in Japan, where values of conformity and harmony have resulted in a strong code of silence.
But as in other parts of the world, from Pennsylvania to Chile, Takenaka and Suzuki are starting to feel less alone as other victims have come forward despite the ostracism they and their family members often face for speaking out.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan launched a nationwide investigation into sexual abuse of women and children this year, responding to the Vatican's demand for an urgent response to the global crisis.
The results haven't been disclosed, and it's unclear when they might be ready. Similar studies have been carried out by the U.S., German and Dutch churches, with the findings made public, and government-mandated inquiries have devastated the church's credibility in countries like Australia and Ireland.
The Japanese bishops' conference has said it carried out various investigations since 2002, but the names of the accused, the nature of the allegations or any other details have never been released.
Broadcaster Japan News Network said 21 cases were found in the latest investigation. The conference declined to confirm that number. It's unclear whether that includes decades-old cases like Takenaka's and Suzuki's.
Takenaka received a public apology earlier this year from Nagasaki Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami for the sexual abuse he suffered as a child at the Salesian Boys' Home in Tokyo, where he was placed after his parents' divorce.
"I think his apology was sincere in his own way. But the response has lacked a sense of urgency, and there is no sign they will take any real action," Takenaka told The Associated Press.
Takenaka identified his abuser as the late Rev. Thomas Manhard, a German priest, who he said initially took off the boy's clothes to examine bruises from beatings he suffered from other boys at the home. The priest's examinations escalated to fondling and other sexual acts, which went on for months until the priest was transferred, he said. He reported that the priest told him he would go straight to hell if he told anyone and gave him candy and foreign stamps.
Takenaka's account was confirmed by the Rev. Hiroshi Tamura, who runs the Salesian Boys' Home and said he was conferring with the Japanese bishops' conference to work out a response to his claim.
Takenaka said an outside investigation is needed and a forum for victims to come together.
"The victims are isolated," Takenaka said. "No one knows for sure if the abuse is still going on."
Pope Francis has emphasized the global nature of the abuse problem, summoning bishops conference leaders from around the world to the Vatican this past February and passing a new law requiring all cases be reported to church authorities.
But he didn't refer to the issue during his trip to Japan, focusing instead on messages on nuclear weapons and nuclear disasters.
Both Takenaka and Suzuki said they had relayed requests to meet with Francis but got no answers.
"I am filled with sadness and I am filled with outrage," said Suzuki, who wept as she told her story of being sexually assaulted by a Japanese priest in northeastern Japan in 1977.
Suzuki represents the Japan section of the American organization SNAP, or the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which supports victims of religious authorities.
"I want my dignity back, and I felt I had to act," she said.
Suzuki, a nurse, says she was assaulted when she went to a priest for help about the domestic violence she was suffering at the hands of her husband and other personal problems.
She says she had no expectation the priest would try to have sex with her and wasn't sure she even had a choice. She remembered he whispered into her ear, "You won't regret this?" and then lifted her up in his arms and carried her upstairs to a bed.
"I did not ask for sex," she said, adding that she has suffered flashbacks and depression, as well as blackouts about how she even got home that day.
Documents seen by The Associated Press show the Sendai diocese carried out an investigation by a third party of lawyers into her case in 2016.
The investigation determined the sexual act likely did happen but decided no criminal or civil responsibility could be pursued, given the passage of time and that the priest may have thought the act was consensual.
Suzuki denies she consented and said she remains so terrified she can't go into a church anymore.
"My whole world was turned upside down," she said.
A Section on 12/15/2019
Print Headline: Silence lifting over clergy abuse