Unification Church Press Conference: Isn’t Offer Just a Way to Evade Responsibility?

It is hard to believe that the Unification Church is sincerely facing up to the serious damage caused by issues such as large-sum donations. Its proposal for damage compensation is also self-righteous and will be difficult to accept.

Tomihiro Tanaka, head of the Japan branch of the Unification Church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, held a press conference for the first time in a year and three months to express an “apology” to former followers and others for the troubles such as with donations.

He denied, however, that the group was responsible for or systematically involved in such troubles, and then repeated his statements to the effect that the apology was “not an apology for wrongdoing” by the group toward former followers, giving reasons such as the victims had not been identified.

What is the difference between an “apology” and an “apology with a sense of wrongdoing”? In light of the group’s past response to the problems, it is difficult to say they have any remorse. Former followers who had fallen victim to the problems and second-generation family members whose parents are Unification Church followers without a doubt are unconvinced.

Tanaka said the group would propose to the government that up to ¥10 billion be deposited as a source of funds in case compensation for damage is necessary.

He said the amount was calculated based on the assumption of the about ¥4 billion in damages that have been sought by 124 people including former believers. Since the current deposit system is insufficient to handle the case, the group is asking the government to establish legislation to deal with the issue, among other steps.

A group of lawyers working for damage relief, however, estimates the potential amount of damages to be around ¥120 billion. How meaningful is the calculated amount proposed to be deposited by the Unification Church? If there is a will to compensate the victims, it would make sense to proceed with returning the money voluntarily, without making such a proposal for the deposit.

The government has filed a request with the Tokyo District Court for an order to dissolve the Unification Church. The group intends to fight the case, and the trial is expected to be protracted. During this period, the ruling and opposition parties are discussing the establishment of a law to freeze the assets of the group, as there are concerns that the Unification Church could hide its assets by transferring them overseas.

The Unification Church may have the intention to gain an advantage in the hearings about the government’s request for a dissolution order, while trying to avoid state-led property preservation by showing that it is standing by the victims.

In two previous trials in which dissolution orders were finalized, decisions were made based mainly on evidence from criminal cases. This time, since no criminal case has been established, the trial will be based on the victims’ statements and internal documents that the government gathered on its own.

The government said it has submitted as many as 5,000 items of evidence, but the hearings are being held behind closed doors, so the content of the evidence and the progress of the trial are unknown.

This is an important trial that also concerns “freedom of religion” under the Constitution. There are no precedents to serve as a reference, and the trial is expected to proceed in a fitful manner. If only the appropriateness of the dissolution is indicated without any knowledge of the process, even the validity of the order cannot be verified.

Both the government and the Unification Church have a responsibility to concretely explain the evidence submitted and the progress of the trial, among other things.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 9, 2023)