Japan’s bishops have publicly responded to a Vatican survey of global Catholics’ views on family issues, stating bluntly that church teachings are not known in their country and the Vatican’s Europe-centric view hampers efforts at evangelization in places where Catholics represent a small minority of the population.
In a sometimes pointed 15-page report issued in preparation for an October meeting of the world’s bishops, known as a synod, the Japanese state the church “often falls short” by “presenting a high threshold for entry and lacking hospitality and practical kindness.”
Stressing many times that Japanese Catholics represent only about 0.35 percent of the country’s population and that some 76 percent of those Catholics marry non-Catholics, the Japanese ask the global church to “go beyond” a series of norms and rules that separate Catholics from one another.
“It is necessary to go beyond merely saying to men and women who do not follow Church norms that they are separated from the community and actively provide them with opportunities to encounter the Christian community,” the Japanese state.
The text, released in Japanese and English and first reported by the Union of Catholic Asian News, is a summary of responses from the country’s bishops and religious superiors to a Vatican questionnaire published in preparation for the October synod.
The Japanese responses to the wider inquiries of the questionnaire are blunt and to the point. In response to a question on how Japanese Catholics accept the church’s teachings prohibiting artificial contraception, for example, the Japanese state: “Contemporary Catholics are either indifferent to or unaware of the teaching of the Church.”
“Most Catholics in Japan have not heard of Humanae vitae,” the Japanese state, referring to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter banning the practice. “If they have, they probably do not make it an important part of their lives. Social and cultural values as well as financial considerations are more important.”
“There is a big gap between the Vatican and reality,” they continue. “Condom use is recommended in sex education classes in schools.”
Responding as to whether Japanese Catholics promote so-called natural methods of birth control, the Japanese respond: “There are some attempts to introduce such practices as the Billings Method, but few people know about it. For the most part, the Church in Japan is not obsessed with sexual matters.”
In response to a question on couples who live together before marriage, the Japanese say, “The pastoral practice of the Church must begin from the premise that cohabitation and civil marriage outside the church have become the norm.”
“In developing a pastoral orientation, it is perhaps important to recall that the only time in the gospels that Jesus clearly encounters someone in a situation of cohabitation outside of marriage (the Samaritan woman at the well) he does not focus on it,” they state. “Instead, he respectfully deals with the woman and turns her into a missionary.”