Japanese bishop upholds suspension for the Way in his diocese

Catholics pray at Shiroyama church. Credit: Catholic Bishop's Conference of Japan.
Catholics pray at Shiroyama church. Credit: Catholic Bishop's Conference of Japan.


Bishop Osamu Mizobe of Takamatsu, Japan has told Catholics in his diocese that since the "problem" of the Neocatechumenal Way "has become a worldwide issue," he has decided to publicly explain his decision to continue the suspension of the movement until a papal envoy reports on the matter.

A pastoral letter from Bishop Mizobe was released on Jan. 20 by the Union of Catholic Asian News. It was written in response to the "painful admonition" he had received from the Vatican that he needed to definitively decide his policy for the Way in his diocese and that inaction "would not be admissible."

The Neocatechumenal Way's activities have been an evident source of concern for the bishops of Japan recently. Last fall, they decided to suspend its activities after nearly 30 years of catechetical formation work in parishes across the nation.

“In those places touched by the Neocatechumenal Way, there has been rampant confusion, conflict, division, and chaos,” wrote the president of the Japanese bishops, Archbishop Leo Ikenaga of Osaka, in the Japanese bishops-sponsored weekly "Katorikku Shimbun" on Dec. 20.

Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki and Bishop Isao Kikuchi of Niigata, Japan have both spoken to CNA about their experiences with the Way. They said that they had experienced disobedience to the local bishops, a lack of understanding of the local culture and language, and a tendency to divide small parish communities into members and non-members.

Archbishop Takami said that the group had caused "a lot of trouble" particularly in the Diocese of Takamatsu where the Way's "Redemptoris Mater" seminary had been for nearly 20 years. Bishop Mizobe closed it down between 2008-2009. The seminarians now continue their studies at another Way seminary in Rome.

Bishop Mizobe argued in his letter that Japan is not the only place in the world where the religious community has encountered hurdles. Investigations, and in some cases restrictions on activities, have been imposed on the group in parts of England, Palestine and the Philippines, he wrote. What these actions "tell us clearly is that problems with the Neocatechumenal Way are not exclusive to the Diocese of Takamatsu and the Church in Japan," he said.

With the great deal of attention on the situation in Japan and its "seriousness," Bishop Mizobe told the faithful under his care that he saw the need to "report clearly to you what has taken place and to explain to you the policy of our diocese."

People had asked him particularly for details about the Dec. 13 meeting that brought the Pope, four Japanese bishops and seven Curia officials together to express their opinions on the suspension of the Way's activities in Japan.

He described the meeting without going into details. The Japanese bishops' understanding, he said, was that individual bishops have the freedom to decide on the Way's future in their diocese and that approval of the movement in Rome "does not automatically imply that a local diocese must accept them."

They emphasized to the Pope and the Vatican officials present that possible decisions from Rome about the individual dioceses should first be discussed with them personally.

After the exchange of perspectives, "it was clear that the fact that the Bishops’ Conference of Japan made the decision to suspend the activities of the Neocatechumenal 'Way' is a big problem for the Vatican," Bishop Mizobe said.

Possibilities for a "plan of action" were discussed. They included the Pope's suggestion of a special envoy to examine the issue on the ground.

The high possibility that this delegate will travel to the Diocese of Takamatsu led the bishop to break his silence to the public about the situation, he said.

"I was waiting for the members of the Neocatechumenal Way to decide for themselves to use self-discipline in their activities. Now that this problem has become a worldwide issue, however, I cannot wait any longer," he said, referring to international media reports on the rift.

He has an "obligation" to speak to the people publicly so that they will not lack the confidence or the information to speak about their experiences to the eventual envoy, he explained. If the people do not speak up, "the result would be that the envoy would leave the diocese without a true grasp of the situation."

While not referring to any specific cases of conflict, he said, "it is not permissible for any organization or movement to use whatever power they can to stop the Bishop from taking action in his diocese.

"It is important for all of us to earnestly and seriously face the events that have occurred in our diocese for the past 20 years and are still happening," he said. He invited the Catholics of the diocese to come together for the interests of all around their bishop.

"We are standing at an important turning point in the road towards true 'Rebirth and Unity'," he told them, in reference to a three-year initiative in place to revitalize the diocese.

In the meantime, the Neocatechumenal Way's activities are to remain suspended in his diocese until the results of the Pope's envoy have been received, he said.

The bishop explained that it is not an end to dialogue but an "opportunity" for reflection for all.

"When a process goes amiss it is said that one should always return to the starting point. I believe that 'NOW' is a good time for us to return to the starting point."

He invited Way members to also join in the activities for renewal in the diocese and said that "not one person" in the diocese of approximately 5,000 Catholic faithful "can be exempted from playing a part in this process."

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