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Catholic leaders in Japan to conduct survey on sexual abuse

[TOKYO] Catholic bishops in Japan plan to conduct a nationwide survey on sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy, church officials said Monday.

Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki, leader of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan, shared the plan Sunday during a gathering in Tokyo where a man spoke of being abused as a young boy at the hands of a German priest.

"Japan's Catholic Church is small and we are not sure what we can do" about child sexual abuse, Archbishop Takami said by telephone Monday. "But we think we have to pay attention to this issue."

According to The Mainichi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, bishops from around the country agreed last week to carry out the survey in all 16 dioceses. The survey method has not yet been decided.

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The Roman Catholic Church faces accusations around the world of covering up child sexual abuse.

In December, Cardinal George Pell of Australia became the highest-ranking church leader to be found guilty of sexual abuse after he was convicted of molesting two boys in the 1990s.

Abuse by church officials has also been reported in India, the Philippines and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, a region the church considers important for its continued growth.

In Japan, the bishops' conference said in 2002 that it had found incidents of child abuse in its ranks. It issued behavioral guidelines for bishops the following year and has updated them several times since.

"Concerning this problem we must confess that we have not adequately fulfilled our responsibility," the conference said in a statement in 2002. "To those who have been harmed we promise now that we bishops will respond to the problem in all sincerity, and that any priests or religious who are guilty will be dealt with severely."

Nationwide questionnaires of bishops, conducted in 2002 and 2012, found that at least five "damage reports" had been filed over church sexual abuse, The Mainichi Shimbun reported Monday. The newspaper quoted Archbishop Takami as saying in an interview that the church would consider conducting third-party investigations into child sexual abuse cases "as necessary."

In February, the newspaper said, Archbishop Takami was among the bishops who traveled to the Vatican for a four-day meeting of Pope Francis and other church leaders to discuss child sexual abuse. Pope Francis is planning to visit Japan in November, which would make him the first pontiff to do so in nearly 40 years.

Archbishop Takami said Monday that he had been invited to the recent gathering in Tokyo by Katsumi Takenaka. The Mainichi Shimbun said Mr Takenaka, 62, was a public servant who had identified himself as a victim of sexual abuse.

At the gathering, Mr Takenaka said that he had been sexually abused as a fourth-grade elementary student by a German priest at a foster care facility in suburban Tokyo.

"We are sorry we've not been able to do enough and caused you to suffer," Archbishop Takami told Mr Takenaka as they shook hands, according to the newspaper.

On Monday, Archbisop Takami said by telephone that the church should listen to victims' voices and "think what we can do" to prevent other children from suffering.

"It took decades for him to be able to speak out," he said of Mr Takenaka. "It must have been very difficult."

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