Nun alleging sexual abuse by Tendai priest in Japan seeks relief amid skepticism (Pt. 3)

The Mainichi, Japan/May 11, 2024

By Rino Yoshida

Takamatsu -- In late January, the Tendai Religious Office in Otsu received a petition for a disciplinary hearing sent by Eicho, and in March, the Tendai sect commenced an investigation and began questioning her. Speaking at a press conference following her meeting with Tendai officials, she said, "I am finally able to stand in the ring. I am asking again that they be punished properly."

However, there is considerable skepticism about whether there will be a proper internal investigation into the alleged sexual assaults that occurred in the secluded temple located in the small town in the Shikoku region.

Eicho and her legal representative are requesting the establishment of a third-party committee, but are also considering filing for human rights relief outside the Tendai sect to provide aid to remedy Eicho's situation.

Her attorney Sato said, "Just because no one has been convicted in a criminal case does not mean they are forgiven. We hope that the Tendai sect takes this issue very seriously and delivers the appropriate punishments."

After the same press conference, the Tendai Religious Office said, "We consider this a serious matter, but we cannot comment as we are in the middle of an investigation. We will proceed with the investigation solemnly and confirm the facts."

When Kyodo interviewed the accused abbot, he revealed that in mid-March he had been interviewed for three hours by two senior counselors at the Tendai Religious Office.

"I spoke the truth," he told Kyodo. But as for the facts, he added, "I have been instructed by the Tendai sect not to give interviews (about the case). I cannot comment," he said.

The temple where he is the resident priest and believers come to worship has been in existence for more than 70 years, since his grandfather's time, the abbot explained.

"I have been involved with the temple since I was 15 years old. I sometimes consult with believers on a one-on-one basis. I believe that the temple is adored by its believers," he said.

Speaking about the daisojo, the high-ranking priest whom he solemnly respects, the abbot said, "We have had a master-disciple relationship for 40 years." The daisojo said, "I have been asked by the Tendai sect to refrain from commenting. There are many things I want to say, but I cannot say anything."

However, a temple official in Otsu close to the daisojo said, "I know the Great Acharya very well, and he is not the type of person who would knowingly do nothing (about sexual violence)."

The Tendai sect

Tendai is a Mahayana Buddhist sect that originated in China. In Japan, a monk named Saicho, currently known as Dengyo Daishi, who had traveled to Tang China, founded the Enryakuji Temple in 788 on Mt. Hiei and spread its teachings.

Enryakuji's chief priest, known as Tendai-zashu, who oversees all the sect's sub-temples, has become a symbol of the faith. Kokei Oki, born in June 1924, is the current Tendai-zashu, the 258th abbot of the head monastery.

In 1987, the Tendai sect organized the "Mount Hiei World Religion Summit," which brought together religious leaders of different faiths from around the world to pray for world peace. Every year, the Tendai sect holds a "world peace prayer gathering." Enraykuji was registered as a World Heritage site in 1994 and Japan Heritage site in 2015.

Grasping the reality

Miyako Shirakawa, a psychiatrist who treats trauma victims of sexual violence, points out that in sexual violence in religion, it is often hard to recognize the perpetrator's actions, and the victim's complaints are easily ignored.

Moreover, victims themselves are less likely to come forward because they view the accusations themselves as "blasphemy or a betrayal of God," she said.

"Sexual violence within religion is easily concealed, and if it is sexual violence done by someone in a position of authority, victims are often not believed by those around them."

It is more likely to occur in religious communities where there is a power disparity, such as in master-disciple relationships, where the perpetrator uses doctrine and religious beliefs to brainwash the victim to justify their sexual violence, she said.

Shirakawa added victims' worldview of their own faith is often shattered by the sexual violence they experience within their religion.

Sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the Catholic Church has become a worldwide problem, she says. There have also been recent cases of sexual abuse allegations in Japan of so-called second-generation followers of the Jehovah's Witnesses, who say they were abused by senior followers of the group.

"If the accusations are true, Tendai must acknowledge the assault, apologize, and take measures based on human rights. Religion is no deterrent against human desire," Shirakawa said.

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