VATICAN – Japanese Bishops Meet Pope For Second Time In Five Months
By Gerard O’Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome
ROME (UCAN) — In an extraordinary move, the Japanese Bishops’ Conference sent a delegation last week to discuss with Pope Benedict XVI "the serious problem" they are having with the Neocatechumenal Way and its seminary in Takamatsu diocese.
The four prelates went to the Vatican to seek the pope’s understanding and intervention to help resolve the situation.
It was the third time Japanese bishops visited and brought up the matter in five months. "We hate to come so often but we had to given the serious nature of the problem that needs to be resolved", Archbishop Okada of Tokyo, president of the bishops’ conference, told UCA News in Rome.
During their ad limina visits in December, they raised their concerns not only with the pope but also with officials at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Indian Cardinal Ivan Dias heads the congregation.
A delegation of Japanese bishops returned in early April 2008 and discussed the matter a second time with congregation officials, who they sensed were somewhat supportive of the Neocatechumenal movement, Archbishop Okada recalled.
They then decided to speak again with Pope Benedict. Archbishop Okada, when he addressed the pope on behalf of the bishops on Dec. 15, had said:
"Another matter would be The Neocatechumenal Way (the Way) and the International Takamatsu Diocesan Seminary known as Redemptoris Mater. We have here a serious problem. In the small Catholic Church of Japan, the powerful sect-like activity of Way members is divisive and confrontational. It has caused sharp painful division and strife within the Church. We are struggling with all our strength to overcome the problem but feel that if a solution is to be found, the consideration of Your Holiness for the Church in Japan will be of the utmost importance and direly needed."
The Neocatechumenal Way, founded in Spain in 1964, today claims around 20,000 communities with 1 million members in 105 countries.
The Takamatsu seminary is one of the movement’s 73 missionary seminaries worldwide, all called Redemptoris Mater and each under a diocesan bishop. The six in Asia are in Hong Kong, India, Japan, Pakistan, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Bishop Francis Xavier Osamu Mizobe of Takamatsu has confirmed he also spoke about the problem in his diocese during his private ad limina audience with Pope Benedict.
The pope, however, made no reference to the matter when he addressed the Japanese bishops as a group on Dec. 15, at the end of their visit.
Four months later, on April 25, he talked about it in depth with Archbishop Okada, Archbishop Leo Jun Ikenaga of Osaka, Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki and Bishop Mizobe.
The small diocese of Takamatsu, based 520 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, has about 5,000 Catholics.
Bishop Mizobe’s predecessor agreed to host the seminary there. But as serious problems emerged and tensions mounted, Bishop Mizobe, a Salesian, decided to close it. The bishops’ conference supported him, its president confirmed.
Keen to maintain a base in Japan, the Neocatechumenal movement sought to gain another bishop’s backing. At first one agreed to host the seminary, but after discussing the matter with brother bishops he decided against this and informed the evangelization congregation and the movement accordingly.
On April 25, Archbishop Ikenaga, vice president of the bishops’ conference, submitted a detailed brief on the situation to the pope.
According to Archbishop Okada, the bishops talked with Pope Benedict for almost an hour. "He listened to us very attentively. He is trying to understand us. He is very serious," the prelate told UCA News.
"The diocesan seminary is to be ended. The Holy See has agreed that it be closed as a diocesan seminary this year," he said.
The bishops, he explained, continue to have "serious and deep" problems with the movement that relate to its "way of thinking" and its "attitude" to Japanese culture, liturgy and other issues.
Asked whether the Vatican understands this, Archbishop Okada said he feels "there is still a gap between us," but the situation "is improving." He added that the way Pope Benedict listened greatly encouraged him.
Archbishop Okada revealed they also discussed with the pope the scheduled Nov. 24 beatification in Nagasaki of the 188 Japanese Martyrs.
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