REVERENCE FOR LIFE: A NEW LOOK The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan January 1, 2017 Preface to the revise […]
REVERENCE FOR LIFE: A NEW LOOK
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan
January 1, 2017
Preface to the revised and enlarged edition
Our hope when we issued the first version of this message in 2001 was “that God’s loving kindness will be poured out on all creation.” When we were composing it, Pope John Paul II provided inspiration with his call to enter the new millennium renewed by a spirit of reflection and repentance. Here in Japan, there were many situations that prompted our concern, especially the need for self-reflection on the cruel disaster of war in the 20th century and the loss of human values in the post-war economic boom. We hoped to foster a fruitful dialogue between the Church and society.
Looking back over the 16 years since then, it is clear that events that show the gap between our world’s view of life and that of God continue to occur. Shortly after we issued that message, terrorist attacks in the United States and subsequent military intervention in the Middle East opened Pandora’s box. The expectation that the end of the Cold War might gradually bring about world peace was betrayed, and conflict in the Middle East spread into Africa and South Asia. Terrorism has become a worldwide phenomenon. A chain of violence continues to deprive innocent people, especially women and children, of their homes and even their lives.
Japan has undergone significant changes in that time as well. In addition to changes in society and the economy, significant basic changes are taking place in the family. Contemporary challenges such as the aging of society and the increase in the working poor cannot be pushed off as someone else’s problems.
Following the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995, Japan experienced other natural disasters in various places, most notably the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 and the Kumamoto earthquake last year. The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake spread radioactive contamination over a wide area, and there is still no clear idea of when, or even if, victims’ lives can be rebuilt. We have come to realize the great harm and limitations inherent in making science and technology supreme. Every time an accident or disaster accompanied by many sacrifices occurs, we feel the limits of human power and are reminded once again of the preciousness of life.
In this revision, we have taken a deeper look at various problems presented by the life sciences. Many new technologies such as ES cells and iPS cells that had not been much of a problem or did not even exist at the time of the first edition have appeared. While all this is a great step forward for researchers, there are ethical issues that must be examined.
We have also made great progress in our thinking about environmental issues. Instead of viewing environmental problems in isolation, we must look at them in relation to such social and economic problems as wealth disparity and poverty in light of our growing awareness that issues of global environmental ethics cross the boundaries of cultures and generations. In this regard, the encyclical Laudato Si’ of Pope Francis has been our guide.
Given these new circumstances in Japan and the world, we bishops have decided to publish Reverence for Life: A New Look. While the first chapter closely follows the first edition in making the Bible the essential foundation of the message, from the second chapter on, we have made major revisions, introducing such topics as nuclear power, wealth disparity and poverty, discrimination, and war and violence. However, there is no change in the conviction that we expressed nearly two decades ago: “The world is God’s, and the fulfillment of human efforts will be found only in relation to God. We hope that our reflections will give courage and hope to our sisters and brothers throughout Japan. We pray that God’s loving kindness will be poured out on all creation.”
If this book encourages as many people as possible, especially youth, to respect life’s dignity and its rich connections more deeply it will have fulfilled our hopes.
Mitsuaki Takami, President
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan
Preface to the first edition
The Great Holy Year celebrating the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ was of special significance for the Catholic Church throughout the world.
It goes without saying that for us who believe in him, the birth of Jesus Christ is the basis of our reflections. In him we see the love of God who did not hesitate to send his only Son for us. That love is the source of our unwavering hope and joy.
Last year, the whole Church under the leadership of Pope John Paul II renewed its faith and gave thanks to God for the mystery of Christ’s birth two thousand years ago. It was indeed a special year of great joy for us all.
However, Japan’s society shows many characteristics that go counter to this joyful stance. Japanese society is marked today by anxiety and sadness. Economic stagnation due to the collapse of the “bubble economy,” the weakening of family bonds, violence in schools, shocking crimes by children and an increasing number of suicides by middle-aged and elderly people have led many people to think that there is no answer to our longing for light and support. Yet, God made and loves people. Human life, God’s one-time gift to each of us, is sacred. That is the main reason the Catholic bishops of Japan have decided to present this message regarding life and humanity to the world.
In addition, scientific advances have made life more comfortable and convenient. The search for material comfort and happiness never ends and in this pursuit the life sciences and medical technology have made great advances. However, there is a real danger that we will try to “play God.”
This world does not belong solely to human beings, nor is full happiness to be found here. The world is God’s, and the fulfillment of human efforts will be found only in relation to God.
We hope that our reflections will give courage and hope to our sisters and brothers throughout Japan. We pray that God’s loving kindness will be poured out on all creation and especially on the people of Japan to whom we address this message.
Shimamoto Kaname, Archbishop of Nagasaki
Chairman, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan
Chapter Two: Our Life’s Course
1. Birth and Growth
1-2. Growing up
1-3. Sexual awakening
2. Adulthood and Marriage
2-1. Work and human dignity
2-2. Building a home
2-3. New Life
3. Living old age
3-1. Welcoming old age
3-2. An aging society and the church
Chapter Three: Issues Concerning Life and Death
1. Introduction: Life manipulation and bioethics
2. The dignity of life and death
2-1. Prenatal diagnosis and disability
2-2. Manipulation of the human embryo
2-3. End-of-life care
2-4. Brain death and organ transplants
2-5. Suicide / self-death
2-6. Capital punishment
3. Threats to life
3-1. Environmental issues
3-2. Nuclear power generation
3-3. Inequality and Poverty
3-5. War and violence
Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version prepared under the auspices of the Division of Education and Ministry of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
1. Nearly two decades into the 21st century, we Catholic bishops of Japan remain keenly aware of the necessity to continually affirm the preciousness of human life. In order to make progress and development truly human, all people of the earth must transcend ethnic, national and religious differences and cooperate in building a society in which each person’s life is respected as irreplaceable.
Serious reflection on the past
2. If we wish to live with hope for the future, people today must look back upon our history, reflect upon our many mistakes and repent of them so that we might move forward. But in fact, are we actually doing that?
Genocide and the use of weapons of mass destruction should force humanity to deep reflection. Yet there is no indication that the proliferation of nuclear weapons will abate, and wars and conflicts are occurring around the world. Indiscriminate mass murder by terrorists has become a regular event. The chain of hatred and violence appears to have no end.
Innocent and defenseless civilians without any responsibility for the violence that overwhelms them lose their lives. Of those who manage to survive, many are forced to leave their beloved homeland as refugees, seeking in foreign lands someplace where they can live. However, they struggle to find someplace that will welcome them, and all too often eventually lose their precious lives. Ethnic egocentrism, national egocentrism and individual egocentrism are delivering countless innocent lives to death.
Japan, which carried out aggression and atrocities in Asian countries in the last century, is also the only country that has experienced atomic weapons in war. Japanese should be able to think about the inhumanity of war both from the point of view of perpetrators and that of victims. Even so, the truth is that such reflection is not taking place in society. We are deeply concerned that the sort of extreme nationalism that drives people into war is reviving in Japan.
Faced with this situation, we cannot remain silent. We must continue to raise our voices on behalf of the dignity of life so that the tragedies of history will not be repeated.
Social distortion crushes the weak
3. After the war, Japan made a remarkable recovery, becoming an economic superpower. Yet today poverty has become a serious problem. This, too, is a crisis of life.
The employment situation has deteriorated due to the prolonged recession, while under the guise of labor market liberalization the number of workers hired without full employee benefits has increased significantly. Even when regular employment is available, some people’s earnings still fall below the minimum living wage. In recent years, the disparity between the few wealthy people and poverty-stricken people is growing. Even though parents may be hardworking, they do not have enough income to provide their children with game toys like those of their friends. There are even many children who do not get three meals each day. Such poverty affects their spirit. Children who are responsible for the future of society cannot imagine a hopeful future and spend their days with dark feelings.
A society that pursues only economic growth while not trying to correct disparity is a society that tramples human dignity. Everywhere in society, whether consciously or unconsciously, weak people are cut off and driven to the periphery. In a society in which a person’s value is measured by profitability, those who are poor or who cannot work find it difficult to exercise their human rights. This becomes a breeding ground for bias.
In such a society, the mission of religious people is to continually proclaim that all life is equally dignified, and that there is absolutely no superiority or inferiority in that dignity.
Ethical issues in the advance of science and technology
4. It is undeniable that the affluence humanity has achieved since the Industrial Revolution has been due to advances in science and technology. Since the 20th century, the rate of that progress has accelerated beyond our capacity to make sensible ethical judgments about each technological advance. The result has been various forms of stress both in society and in individuals.
For example, advances in medical technology have pushed humanity into new ethical dilemmas about life and death. We must welcome the progress that has overcome many diseases which once had been considered incurable, that has dramatically increased life expectancy and allows many people to enjoy more time on the earth. However, at the beginning and end of life there are hidden dangers that people may arrogantly play at being God, using technology to infringe upon the sanctity of life.
Humankind must remain alert to the dangers of technological advances that often put life at risk or harm its dignity. In our contemporary society that is prone to excessive confidence in science and technology, believers have a responsibility to express such concerns.
The globalization of problems
5. As a negative result of the technical revolution and economic growth, the 20th century was also the century of pollution. Problems of pollution have not been ignored and improvements have been made. Urban rivers that stank a half century ago are now home to various creatures. Regulations have been strengthened due to serious pollution problems that occurred during the period of high economic growth, and seas, rivers, marshes, lakes and the atmosphere are regaining their beauty.
However, that is the case in Japan, and even here, only in parts of the country. Our current environmental problems cannot be solved at the level of a single country, or even a single region. While developed countries like Japan enjoy wealth, many poor countries suffer unfair disadvantages. Some people are forced to live in an environment where hazardous substances pollute air, soil and water. Faced with environmental degradation on a global scale, advanced countries have an obligation to take initiatives and make sacrifices for the sake of finding solutions. But how much of a role is our country actually playing in mitigating global warming and other problems? How much of our energies are we directing to delivering a beautiful earth to future generations? It is always the poor who are the first victims of problems such as rising sea levels. To what extent have we in wealthy countries taken to heart the fact that they are victims of our wealth?
The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident in 2001 forced us to reconsider the way humankind should progress. We learned how a single accident can harm many lives. From the mining of uranium to the processing of radioactive waste, it is clear that nuclear power generation cannot be used without sacrificing many people. We must face the issue of nuclear power as yet another problem of life.
All these problems are intertwined in complex ways that cross borders; they have become global in scale. What we say in this message may be only a small bit of advice. However, from our perspective of respecting all life as given by God, we bishops of Japan want to face these various problems as honestly as possible.
CHAPTER ONE: THE MESSAGE OF SCRIPTURE
God’s gift of life shining in a newborn child
6. All over the world today, even close to us, new life is raising its voice. Embraced in its mother’s arms, that little life feels safe. It has not yet been buffeted by the world. For us to renew an awareness of the mystery of life, perhaps we should consider the newborn child.
When we stand before such a child, we put aside all other thoughts and are united in awe at the mystery before us. The naked child has nothing to do with social position or power. Before such a defenseless person, we become gentler.
In addition, parents and anyone else who sees a newborn child realize that a child is a gift from God. This is obviously true when the child is born as the fruit of deep love between a man and woman, but it is also true no matter what the circumstances of its birth. We know that each child has been given life by a Source that transcends human power and understanding.
God created and blessed humankind
7. This feeling we all have toward new life is a sign that, as the Bible teaches, all life is a special gift of God’s love.
God loved and chose us before the creation of the world. (see Ephesians 1:4) “God created humankind in his image” (Genesis 1:27).
Life is a work of God, a gift of God. This is the unwavering belief of the Catholic Church. There is an absolute basis to the grandeur of human life and we may not interfere in that grandeur, no matter who we are.
We also wish to stress the Biblical teaching that after creating humankind, “God blessed them” (Genesis 1:28). In this we see God’s love toward humanity.
When someone close to us enters school, marries or starts a new job, we bless them. To bless is to hope for the best for others and to enter into their joy. At the same time, we pray that the new possibilities of the situation will bear good fruit. When the Bible tells us that God blessed the creation of human life, it teaches us that God rejoiced in our creation and hopes that the possibilities given us with life will be fulfilled.
Led and supported by God’s hand
8. The Bible clearly shows in many places how greatly God’s loving care for people supports us.
“Even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:30-31).
“It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (Matthew 18:14).
“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … Indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:25, 32-33).
Can there be any greater source of strength to a human being than to know God rejoices in each human birth and hopes for our happiness? No matter what sort of troubles we encounter, this knowledge is a reliable source of hope and an encouragement to not despair.
Man and woman as cooperators in God’s work of creation
9. The Bible introduces the intention of God who created human life by saying, “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (see Genesis 1:28). Clearly, God’s creation of human life is meant to be realized through the love of man and woman. Man and woman participate in God’s creating activity. While it is true that without God there can be no human birth, it is equally true that without the sharing of man and woman there can be no birth.
Human life is the fruit of God’s work, but it is realized through the love of a man and a woman. It is here that we must warn of the problems of irresponsible sex and intervention in life without consideration of God’s part in creation.
We cannot live alone
10. Furthermore, in the words “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18), the Bible teaches us that we cannot grow in isolation. The Bible makes it clear that though we depend upon God for life, we cannot live, grow or flourish apart from other people. It was in answer to this basic human need that God said, “I will make him a suitable helper” (Genesis 2:18)【1】.
In the Bible, the human being to whom this suitable helper is given expresses his joy by saying, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). This is the joy of companionship, a joy that is eternalized by the bonds of marriage. As soon as the first human finds a “suitable helper,” the Bible tells us, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
The union of these two people is threatened by our society’s emphasis upon efficiency, economic goals and egoism. Many tendencies in our society tear at the unity of couples. To resist these tendencies requires a strong commitment to that unity and to prayer. New life born of the bond between a husband and wife becomes the starting point for family life, life that is fulfilled in the love shared among all the members of the family.
11. We want to emphasize the fact that the Bible does not deal with human life and death merely on the biological level.
“We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14).
To love means to meet another in the uniqueness of his or her being and to serve one another’s happiness. To not love is to ignore the existence of others, thinking only of one’s own desires and needs, the very definition of egotism. The phrase “whoever does not love abides in death” speaks of a death that not physical, but spiritual. It is the death that comes from being controlled by one’s own self-centered desires.
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body to death, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
These words come from St. Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth. In that letter, he tells us that no matter how much education we have, no matter what kind of social successes we have, no matter how many noteworthy services we perform, if we do not have love they are all wasted. Without love, life is sterile.
Not only does the spirit of one without love wither, but that person’s connection to other people also collapses. There is nothing else so important as love. Japanese society, which evaluates people on the basis of their educational background, social position and achievements, has lost vitality and joy because it has lost sight of love. The regeneration of Japan’s homes, schools and society as well as the life of each person depends upon reigniting the fire of love. We must foster the conviction that love is the highest value of all.
12. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27). These words of Scripture teach us that unless our innate desire for the everlasting God is met, we cannot live a truly fulfilling life. Human life finds its fulfillment only in relation to God. Our society has lost sight of this important insight.
Instead of seeking an answer to the mystery of human existence, Japanese society has worked for “the food that perishes,” mere economic goals. It should not surprise us, then, that we are experiencing so much disruption and unease. We have ignored that which would nourish our spirits in favor of this-worldly goals and find ourselves in a rut. Christ’s words show us a way out of this dilemma.
“Work for the food that endures for eternal life.” This is a difficult command for us who are ruled by our selfish desires and settle for immediate gratification. Christ fully understood this difficulty and offered encouragement to his disciples. He told the young man who asked what is necessary to have eternal life that he must renounce his possessions, for one who does so receives a hundredfold (see Matthew 19:16-30). Though it is difficult to break our attachment to wealth and property, we must not let the difficulty keep us from achieving salvation. Life is a challenge. No matter how hard that challenge, meeting it is our glory. A person dies when he or she lives only by desire. The regeneration of Japan and we Japanese will occur only when we repent of our infatuation with material abundance and give priority to our relationship with God.
13. We want to look at yet another passage from Genesis (1:27): “God created humankind in his own image.” In these words we find the source of our responsibility for the earth as it endures pollution and environmental destruction.
In the ancient Middle East kings erected statues of themselves throughout their realms to proclaim their power over the area.
Based on this, we see that God’s declaration that humanity is his image on the newly-created earth means authority over the planet rests upon us. In other words, we are responsible for the order and harmony of the planet.
An honest look at history shows that we have not fulfilled that responsibility. The Biblical stories of Adam, Eve and their children show that the ruin of the world comes through human actions. Adam and Eve turned away from God and followed their own desires by eating the forbidden fruit. Therefore, they were exiled from the garden to a land of where thorns grew thick. This story shows us that the order and harmony of the world have been shattered by human actions. The pollution of our environment calls into question the way in which we live. We must remember that the earth was created as a gentle home for life and that we must change the way we live in order to protect it.
From the cross to the resurrection
14. We wish to make it clear that the Scriptures do not merely present pretty words and stories. The Bible knows and shows that the world is a cruel place that echoes with the cries of the oppressed.
“The tongue of the infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst; the children beg for food, but no one gives them anything” (Lamentations 4:4).
“Our skin is black as an oven from the scorching heat of famine. Women are raped in Zion, virgins in the towns of Judah. Princes are hung up by their hands; no respect is shown to the elders. Young men are compelled to grind, and boys stagger under loads of wood. The old men have left the city gate, the young men their music. The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning” (Lamentations 5:10-15).
These verses refer to the state of the people during their conquest by Babylon. However, the sad picture they paint is still true where we see war, civil unrest and conflict.
Jesus Christ was also a victim of sin and violence. Christ is the figure of God’s solidarity with the victims of violence to this day. Jesus was “in every respect tested as we are.” (Hebrews 4:15), “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” (Heb. 2:18) This is the mystery of the solidarity of Christ with the sufferings of humanity.
At the same time, the message of the Bible is not simply suffering and death. For those of us who know the way of the cross that Christ walked, pain and death are not the whole story of human life.
“Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15-20).
In Christ’s death and resurrection, humanity has been shown definitively that the absurdities of life do not lead to despair, but to new life. No matter how terrible the conditions we face, no matter how thick the darkness that surrounds us, no matter how threatened we are with death, we can find a hope that overcomes all this.
“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).
This is how Paul sang out his joy over the victory of life over death in the resurrection of Christ. In order to join in this joy, we, like Christ, must love God and other people with our whole heart, our whole soul and our whole strength.
CHAPTER TWO: OUR LIFE’S COURSE
1. BIRTH AND GROWTH
The modern family
15. Most people are born into families and are raised in their families. Families are the loving strength that embraces life, protecting, supporting and guiding it. There a person learns that he or she is irreplaceably important while at the same time learning the value of living for those that one loves. The Church has emphasized the importance of the family as a place where love is built. There is no doubt that a home is a precious thing for which there is no substitute. However, if “home” is considered to take only a specific form, it becomes possible to ignore and exclude people who cannot meet that standard.
Due to various circumstances, there are children who cannot grow up in families. There are couples who even though they desire children do not have them.
There used to be a time in Japan when three generations living together was common. However, today the most common household in Japan is the single household. According to the 2015 census, 32.6 percent of households had a single resident, and 20.1 percent consisted of only a couple. Households with a couple and children were 28.1 percent of the total, while 9.2 percent consisted of a single parent and one or more children. The number of elderly single households is rapidly increasing, with 16.88 percent of those aged 65 and over living alone, 1.85 times what it was in 2000. Under such circumstances, many elderly people are isolated.
Life, the fruit of creation
16. The life of all human beings is the result of God’s work of creation. Therefore, every human life is sacred and there is no life without dignity. It is impossible for anyone to be excluded. “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.” 【2】
Young life under threat
17. When we look at the reality of society, we see that life often faces various trials and difficulties. And there are special dangers and difficulties for the fetus and the newborn.
In the era when medical technology was underdeveloped, birth itself had many dangers and difficulties. Even now in developing countries there are many cases where mothers and fetuses are exposed to life-threatening dangers in pregnancy and childbirth. In Japan, on the other hand, the infant mortality rate has become very low. Even many babies with an ultra-low birth weight of less than 1,000 grams survive and grow.
However, even in such a time as this, there are still dangers for young life.
It is a social problem that due to poverty or lack of knowledge, there are not a few pregnant women who do not undergo any prenatal health checks.【3】 Then if there are sudden difficulties in a pregnancy the hospital to which the woman is taken is unable to detect the problem right away and so the life being born is at risk.
Also, there are frequently heartbreaking reports of women who have an unexpected pregnancy and cannot consult with anyone. They hide the fact to the end and abandon the baby immediately after it is born.
Efforts to Protect Young Lives
18. In response to this situation, in 2007 the Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto City set up a “Stork Cradle” (commonly called “baby postbox”) that allows people to anonymously leave infants there. Over eight years more than 100 children have been placed in the cradle. The hospital also receives many consultations on pregnancy, and many lives are being protected by its activities. We hope that such activities will spread nationwide.
These lives that have been saved must be given places to be nurtured. In Europe and the United States, there seem to be many families willing to adopt children placed in what are called in those places “baby hatches.” However, in Japan there is a strong tendency to emphasize blood relationships and the idea of adoption does not spread easily. Even without blood connections, there are certainly families that are united firmly by love, but in Japan those who wish to legally adopt a child as their own face a wall of strict conditions and complicated procedures.【4】 Each year about 400 children are welcomed into families through special adoptions. Of course, care should be exercised in adoptions, but given that every year more than 3,000 babies are placed in care facilities, we cannot help but say that this is a very small number.
Abuse and neglect
19. The sight of a growing child gives joy. Especially for parents, watching over the growth of their children is an experience filled with hope for the future.
However, it is also a fact that child rearing involves many difficulties. It is not unusual for parents to be psychologically overwhelmed. Unfortunately, there are cases where such stresses manifest themselves in child abuse or neglect.
It is reported that abuse of infants is the most common form of child abuse. Mothers are physically fatigued due lack of sleep due to nursing. Furthermore, in the current situation in which nuclear families are commonplace, they cannot find someone to consult about child rearing, and feel uneasy and troubled. In many cases, this leads to neurosis and violence against the child.
According to preliminary figures for 2015 published by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the number of abuse consultations at child guidance centers was 103,260 cases, an increase of 14,329 cases from the previous year. The ministry attributed the increase mainly to an increase in psychological abuse. There are also tragic cases where abuse and neglect eventually lead to the death of children. Even if abuse does not lead to death, scars that cannot be healed remain for a lifetime in the heart of the abused child.
In Osaka, a three-year-old girl and her one-year-old brother were found starved to death in an apartment in 2010. Their 23-year-old single mother who had abandoned them was arrested for murder. The fact that she was working in an immoral business and had posted pictures of herself relaxing with her boyfriend on social media became sensational news that shocked society. Many people condemned her as cruel. However, as the investigation of the incident progressed, it was found that she was not able to obtain support in raising the children with whom she lived in isolation. It also became clear that she had no contact with the local child guidance center. Her deed cannot be justified. However, with this incident as a trigger, society must think anew about raising children under difficult circumstances. The obligation to report child abuse must be stressed and action groups against child poverty must be organized.
20. Currently, one out of six Japanese children lives in poverty. The relative poverty rate of Japanese children has risen to 16.3 percent.【5】 This places Japan 14th from the bottom among 41 developed countries. UNICEF also publishes numerical values that are different from the relative poverty rate, called the “relative income gap.”【6】 This is an index of how low the income of poor families is with respect to the income of middle-class families. This relative income gap in Japan has been reported to be 60.21 percent. This severe disparity puts Japan eighth from the bottom among 41 developed countries.【7】 In other words, Japan is a country with a big disparity in the children at the bottom. Such a serious disparity is also called “the depth of poverty,” and it is said to be gradually expanding. Compared with other developed countries, poverty in Japan is deeply rooted.
In the background of child poverty are the instability of parents’ employment due to changes in social conditions, decreasing household income and an increase in single-parent households.
Low family income, lack of nourishing meals for growth, inability to pay for medical care, dropping out of school ― these are all elements of material poverty underlying child poverty in Japan.
Poverty threatens the physical and emotional growth of children. According to the Osaka Children’s Study, the biggest problem in child poverty is “loss of self-affirmation.”【8】 In this survey, when eighth grade students were asked, “Do you think that you are a valuable person?” 25 percent of poor children answered, “I do not think so.” Only 17 percent in the non-poor gave the same answer. Even though the answers to other statements about self-affirmation such as “I am liked by my friends,” “I never feel lonely,” “I am looking forward to my future,” “Every day is fun,” did not show such a great gap, poor children were still more likely to answer, “I do not think so.” The economic difficulties of the family affect not only the physical growth of a child, but also cast a dark shadow on the child’s spirit and inner growth.
Children and school
21. Children will eventually move away from home and into the outside world. Their first steps are nurseries, kindergartens and schools. For children, school is their first encounter with “society.” Relationships that were mainly limited to parents, siblings and relatives now include friends and teachers at school. Children make friends and develop those friendships. In other words, they grow. They learn to care for and cooperate with others, acquiring the necessary foundation to live in society.
School children may become interested in studies and club activities that clarify their interests and help them see paths for the future. They may also encounter close friends that they keep for life.
Children will grow up at school and eventually move on into a bigger society. For that purpose, an educational environment is required where children are not isolated and everyone’s personality is valued. Both schools and homes must be stable places where children can be accepted as they are.
Children in pain
22. Because a school is a place where various people spend time together, it is not necessarily a desirable place for everyone. There are children who, instead of entering a classroom, study every day in the school’s health office. Other children are truant, not going to school at all. Some encounter bullying, and fear for their safety. It has been a long time since truancy and bullying became social problems, but a lot of children still suffer from these problems. As a result, many shut themselves up at home for a long time.
Sometimes children are driven to suicide to end their suffering. According to the Cabinet’s “Suicide Countermeasures White Paper” (2015), 866 students took their own lives in 2014. In addition, a graph in this white paper clearly shows that among those aged 18 or under there is a tendency to increased suicide in early April or on September 1, immediately after the end of long school vacations. Despairing at having to return to school for a new semester, they end their lives. Those precious lives are lost because they cannot cry for help and others do not see their pain.
Life is irreplaceable. If it is hard for a child to go to school, there is no need to force attendance. When suicide is a real possibility, there is no reason to struggle or endure. Not wanting to worry their parents or make them sad, children who choose their own death keep quiet about their suffering and endure it. But in the end, they seek to be free from suffering, to be at ease. They come to desire death.
When their classmates have a good attendance rate, that becomes increased pressure on children who are stressed. Dropping out of school jeopardizes one’s future, and thinking of doing so can appear to be giving in to weakness in the face of danger. So, the child remains in the painful situation.
Parents, too, suffer when their children’s grades are not good or when not getting along well with their schoolmates causes stress. Is Japanese society, where once one goes off the rails it is hard to get back, making life hard for its children?
1-3. SEXUAL AWAKENING
Sexuality related to the whole of human activity
23. As bodily changes appear at puberty, boys and girls become conscious of sex. That consciousness involves feelings of embarrassment. The young person experiences various apprehensions as strong feelings arise that cannot be controlled. But that is the power of love, a great force to encounter the other, and a sign of hope of being loved. Sex is the power that creates life.
Humans are sexual beings from the moment of their birth. The world of the Bible sees human beings as gendered, “male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27), and so from the beginning sex is under God’s blessing. Scripture neither separates sexuality from reproduction nor sees it solely in relation to reproduction. Sex is understood as being related to the whole of human activity. Through sharing sexual activity a couple “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), and confirm and deepen their love. Men and women who are strongly bound this way can cooperate with each other to gain the courage to stand up to the hardships of life.
A flood of sexual information
24. It is very natural and healthy that adolescents have an interest in sex.
But in modern society, information on sex is overflowing. In particular, as information gathering through the Internet has become common, it is possible to have unlimited access to such information regardless of one’s stage of maturity. Moreover, most of such information is self-focused, unfortunately presenting sex only in terms of pleasure. Information that disregards the dignity of persons, especially women’s dignity, has a significant adverse effect on young people.
Pornography, which “perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other,”【9】 treats people as objects, a great violation of human dignity. The Internet has made access to pornography very easy in contemporary society compared to the times when it was only available in media such as magazines and videos.
It is very important that parents place restrictions on children’s Internet browsing by making use of filtering functions etc. to prevent criminal victimization, but that alone does not solve all problems. It is a great responsibility for adults to give young people adequate and correct knowledge and information about sex and to develop values that truly honor sex that leads to new life.
Commercialization of sex and violence
25. It is clear that prostitution hurts human dignity. Human beings are persons. Even if it is consensual, trading sex for money is not justified, because it turns a human being into a commodity. But sadly, prostitution exists in every society.
The victim of prostitution is often a woman or a child. For example, girls unaware of what is happening are drawn into the sex industry with skillful words and end up being used by adults. Cunning adults lay traps for them everywhere. Sexual exploitation inflicts deep wounds that are hard to heal.
Responsibility for the birth of life
26. Sexual intercourse is the expression of the intimate love of husband and wife and at the same time it is the act of creating the next generation. Therefore, in essence, it includes taking responsibility for the birth of new life.【10】 It must not be forgotten that God is always at work there. Let us recall the truth pointed out in the first chapter, that there is no human birth without God, and at the same time there is no human birth without male and female intercourse.
Since we see birth as sharing in God’s work of creation, we are deeply concerned about the modern trend to easily affirm the arbitrary intervention of couples in the creation of life. We are obliged to point out the mistake of those whose who, accepting a “contraceptive mentality,”【11】 focus on themselves or humanity, though the Lord of human activity is not humanity itself but almighty God.
On the other hand, we do not consider the opposite attitude, “the more children the better,” to be a responsible choice.【12】 Recent popes have emphasized this. For the sake of any children they might have, couples must responsibly consider their ability, given their actual situation, to raise their children. This includes prayerfully considering the effect of having a child upon deepening their bonds of love, their economic realities, the availability of support for child rearing, education problems, environmental concerns etc.【13】
However, in our contemporary society with a declining birthrate and an aging population, we must seriously consider the words of Pope Francis, “A society with a paucity of generations, which does not love being surrounded by children, which considers them above all a worry, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society”【14】
In addition, since the birth of life belongs to God’s will and at the same time is due to a conscientious decision of a man and woman, state organizations and others may not intervene in a decision that must be left to the couple.【15】
Diverse sexual orientations
27. Jesus did not exclude anyone. The Church is also trying to follow this attitude of Jesus. We hope that the dignity of all people will be valued and accepted with respect regardless of sexual orientation. Until recently, the Church looked harshly upon homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender people. But those people should, like others, be met with respect and thoughtfulness.【16】 We must be careful that they are not subjected to discrimination or violence. Without exception, the Church must accompany all people with respect, so that everyone has the necessary help to understand and realize God’s will for them in life. While holding the traditional teachings about marriage, we will continue to make efforts to consider the diversity of sexual orientation.【17】
2. ADULTHOOD AND MARRIAGE
Becoming an adult
28. Until they become adults, children live under the care of their parents and many other people. The people who care for them wish for the children’s happiness. They lovingly provide for the children’s practical needs in order that they may have healthy growth in mind and body. Thus, children can trust their parents and follow their guidance.
Eventually, the child becomes an adult. That adult will now have the right and obligation to choose an occupation and other activities. He or she will establish a financial base to satisfy living needs and live a happy life. As adults, they acquire knowledge, make their own decisions and think seriously about choosing a way of life. While maintaining a relationship with those who raised them, adults take responsibility for fulfilling their vision of life.【18】
29. Work is essential for people to fulfill their responsibilities in life. However, in Japan today the employment situation of is a serious concern. One sign of this is the extreme increase in those who work without being hired as full employees. The proportion of such employment among male workers between the ages of 25 and 34 has increased from 6.5 percent in 1992 to 16.4 percent in 2012. The average annual income decreased from 4.02 million yen to 3.5 million yen, and those called “working poor” with an annual income of less than two million yen have reached 14.3 percent of the total.【19】
The situation of long working hours has been criticized for years, but without sufficient improvement. The number of people who ruin body and mind by overwork continues to increase. Of the injury and benefit payments in 2015, 27.51 percent were due to “disability of mind and behavior.” In 1995, this ratio was 4.45 percent, which shows that the number of people who fall into mental illnesses such as depression due to work is rapidly increasing. By age, “mental and behavioral disorder” is the top reason for receiving payments in each age group from the 15-19-year group to the 45-49 group, and among them the percentage is more than fifty percent among 20 to 24-year-olds.【20】
The meaning of work
30. Work is a means of getting food as well as a means of serving others, making a living and finding value in life. To have a job means there is a place in society that needs that person. And being needed by society is also an invitation from God to fulfill a mission and is indispensable to human dignity. That dignity must be guaranteed by freedom, options, just wages, etc.
However, we now see a tendency to make economic matters supreme, solely emphasizing how to increase profits more efficiently, while increasingly disregarding people.
The Bible tells us that God created man and “put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). This short verse shows that labor is not a bitter punishment for sin but a participation in the work of God’s creation by humanity created as image of God. That is why humans are also told to rest on the seventh day, the Sabbath, just as God rested after creating the world in six days. Diligence is praised and laziness is condemned because abandoning labor leads to abandoning being the image of God. Labor is primarily cooperation with God’s work of creation and the transformation of the world. However, it loses that meaning when sins such as selfishness, exploitation, violence, injustice and compulsion turn it into pain.
2-2. BUILDING A HOME
Choosing a way of life
31. The choice of a way of life is a personal one, but at the same time it is a response to God’s call. God’s invitation takes many forms; for some it means marriage, for others it means another path.
Men and women who meet partners with whom they want to share life marry and build a family.
God has clear purposes in bringing together a man and woman. One is to continue the work of creation by creating new life through that man and woman. The other is to provide each of them with a suitable lifelong support. Each of the partners is a gift of God for the other, and the couple’s vows are an acceptance of God’s offer to help them throughout their lives.
32. In Japan today, in addition to the fact that late marriage is increasing, a growing number of men and women do not marry at all. In 1970, the average age of men at the time of their first marriage was 26.9 years old and for women was 24.2. In 2015, the figure for men was 31.1 and for women was 29.4.【21】 In addition, the number of people who never marry is increasing.【22】 In 2010, 20.14 percent of men and 10.61 percent of women had never married. This is nearly double the rate in 2000. NHK, the broadcasting company, conducted an opinion survey in 1984 and 2008. Respondents were presented with two opinions and were asked with which they agreed. In 1984, twice as many people agreed that “it’s normal for people to marry” as agreed that “there is no need to marry.” In 2008, the proportions were reversed.
Along with these changes in attitudes, there is the fact that the economic situation surrounding marriage has deteriorated. Even if they desire marriage, some young people hesitate because they lack the financial wherewithal.
The Church respects individuals’ values, and for those who desire to marry and build a home the Church encourages them in their wonderful choice. We will also look at social issues that make marriage decisions difficult, and prayerfully support individuals so that they will be able to fulfill their given paths.
33. A newlywed couple has many dreams for their life with one another. However, it is not only joy and excitement that await them. Sometimes suffering, disappointment and disillusionment will come in like a rough wave. Their feelings for one another are fragile. There may be times when they feel a gap between them that is hard to overcome, and they may want to give up on life together.
However, in such a case, they should stop and think because true human growth comes through devotion to love. Love in this case does not remain at the level of likes and dislikes, but works for the happiness of the partner.
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).
Two people who marry pledge before God, “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”【23】 It may seem impossible for selfish people like us to pledge unending love. But it is possible because God pours out grace upon us. That is our faith.
More than anything else, what is required of a couple is to hold firmly to one another. Instead of making the pursuit of economic riches a priority, they should focus on their precious partner and children. Only with such a loving gaze can one’s mind be calm and relieved. Also, when we are convinced that a family’s love embraces us, no matter how big the storms of life we encounter, we are supported and find hope and strength.
For that to happen, mutual efforts are needed. Being busy must not be an excuse to delay conversation and mutual understanding. It is no exaggeration to say that the bond between a married couple depends upon communication to survive.
Also, we need to develop a new consciousness about the cooperation of the couple. We must be more aware of the fact that things like housework, parenting and parent care are joint responsibilities.
It is important for couples to cooperate with each other, remembering that patience and self-sacrifice are indispensable.
34. However, in modern society, the bonds of many couple are shaky. Even in Japan, divorce is no longer a rare thing. The number of divorces since 2000 reached a peak of 289,836 in 2002, and thereafter have been decreasing. However, that is due in part to the decline in the number of marriages. In 2015, the number of divorces was 226,215, so the annual number has remained above 200,000.【24】
Even when they do not go as far as divorce, many couples suffer problems. There are situations where talking with someone may suffice to find healing. However, too often people are embarrassed to admit their problems to others and bottle them up within themselves.
We repent of the fact that the Church has often acted as a stern judge for those who were unable to maintain married life. We want to meet those who suffer with the warm embrace of Jesus Christ, and we believe we must support their new steps in life.【25】
After the misfortune of divorce, people encounter new companions and try to begin a new life. In this situation, the Church hopes to accompany and encourage them with a mother’s heart.【26】 Besides just offering courses before marriage, we want the Church to be a community that draws close to couples and allows them to share their problems and concerns. The Church has a mission to accept people regardless of their past and give them new light and hope.
Changing consciousness of youth
35. We must also consider changes in the consciousness of young people. The primary cause for the increase in divorce is that divorce among young people is increasing greatly. In 2010, the divorce rate for males under 19 years old was 49.09 percent, and for 20 to 24-year-olds, it was 47.05 percent. Among women under 19, the rate was 82.74 percent, while for the 20 to 24-year-old group it was 48.34 percent.【27】 The slang phrase dekichatta kon, referring to marriage during pregnancy clearly shows that young people’s sense of the value of marriage has changed significantly from the past. We have a duty to convey not only to those preparing for marriage, but to youth and children as well, the value of sharing life with another in a marriage open to bearing new life.
36. Increasingly there are cases where divorce comes after one of the partners has had to flee home to protect children and themselves from spiritual, physical and mental violence. The main reason given for divorce by both men and women is “incompatibility.” For women, the second-ranking reasons are “he doesn’t give me money for living expenses,” “mental abuse” and “violence.”【28】 Domestic violence is a serious problem, and in the worst case, can even take the life of a spouse or child. In such a situation, it is not possible to maintain a shared life, nor can the victim be blamed. The Church hopes to stand by and support those who are in such a difficult situation.
2-3. NEW LIFE
The gift of life
37. It is great joy when two people who lead a married life are blessed with children. They will deepen their bond by raising new life together.
But, sad to say, not all pregnancies are filled with joy. The number of abortions in Japan has been decreasing year by year. Still, there are more than 180,000 abortions performed each year.【29】 The spread of prenatal diagnosis is influencing this.
The Catholic Church opposes abortion. The human rights of all must be recognized equally from the first moment of existence. The Church cannot ignore the “irreparable harm” done to “the innocent who is put to death.”【30】
However, while opposing abortion and seeking ways to end it, it is also important to act after thinking realistically about the environment surrounding women. We must further advance our efforts to encourage and support women who are having trouble regarding pregnancy and childbirth.
In addition, we cannot forget that there are many women who for many years continue to have a sense of pain due to having an abortion. It is an important mission of the Church to embrace the pain and be close to those who need forgiveness and comfort.
38. Due to the popularization of family planning measures and advances in medical technology, it seems that people’s consciousness about children is being changed from “gift” to “something to make.” The birth of life is God’s work of creation, and the man and woman participate in that work. We are concerned that such sensitivity to mystery has diminished.
Couples must think seriously about their responsibility for new life. If fertility regulation is required, the Church has recommended natural means.【31】 In natural birth control, loving sensitivity to the woman’s body and communication are absolutely essential.
39. Parenting gives couples great joy. At the same time, it presents various challenges. But in those challenges, the children themselves become a support for their parents. As a child grows, its parents grow as well. People do not become good parents suddenly, but through repeated experiences and mistakes.
Child rearing is not always joy-filled. Especially during times when child care keeps them sleep-deprived, mothers can become frustrated when things do not go as they wish. They can become physically and mentally exhausted. They may even strike out against the child.
In order to rear new life and support its growth, there must be a spirit of compassion and support between husband and wife. In contrast to the era when the attitude “housekeeping and childcare is the job of women” was overwhelmingly dominant, in the present when joint responsibility has become common, the number of men who actively participate in child rearing has increased. Still, it is the reality for many couples that the major burden of child rearing is on the shoulders of the woman. The child rearing and nursing care leave law was amended in June of 2010 so that even if the mother is a fulltime housewife, fathers have a right to parental leave. However, it cannot be said that this practice has taken root throughout Japanese society, and invisible pressure sometimes exists against workers who claim their right.【32】
40. According to the 2010 census, there are approximately 756,000 mother and child households in the country (1.5% of the general households【33】), and father and child households number about 89,000, In comparison with 1995, mother and child households have increased by about 226,000, while father and child households have increased by about 600.【34】
The relative poverty rate of single parent households is 54.6 percent.【35】 In other words, half of single parent households live in poverty. About 10 percent of single parent households receive welfare assistance.【36】
There are also single mothers who work multiple jobs or do night work or late-night work to earn even a little extra income. As a result, they are not able to spend enough time with their children.
A parent’s true joy is to see a child growing steadily towards the future. But many parents struggle with harsh economic and time constraints. But even in difficult circumstances there is no doubt that a child is joy and support for its parents. Parents receive more than they give.
Society’s role in child rearing
41. Responsibility for child rearing is not limited to parents. Society also has a part to play. We need to seek further legal development and more proactive child rearing support from government and employers. Individual families and society must establish mutually helpful relationships.
There are also things that can be carried on by the Church. There are kindergartens and nursery schools at many churches throughout the country. This could be a valuable network for parents who are raising children. We hope that the Church aiming to “always be open” as “the house of the Father”【37】 can also encourage people in the community to engage in raising children.
3. LIVING OLD AGE
Living in a super-aged society
42. Everyone ages and eventually reaches a period called old age. It is a time that for many people involves breaks with parts of their life. While feeling a sense of accomplishment, they may also be attacked by loneliness or emptiness.
There is a phrase “sunset years,” but now that average life expectancy has increased dramatically, we cannot simply say that old age is a period of decline. Freed from work, some people have time and the psychological freedom to pursue hobbies and volunteer activities that they could not do before. On the other hand, as their body weakens, many people suffer from health concerns. Also, some people are burdened by the care of their partners and parents.
Japan boasts one of the world’s top average life expectancies. That is good news, but in fact, neither society nor ourselves are ready to deal with the rapid aging of the population. The impact extends to various fields. How will we live a super aged society? Answering that is a major task for us.
Physical decline, care and poverty
43. No matter how proud people are of their healthy, strong body in youth, everyone feels a decline and gets sick as they become older. Most people reach the point where they need someone’s help. Many people feel uneasy about aging or sickness, wondering, “What if I need nursing care?” “I am worried about dementia and becoming a burden,” and so on. It is not easy to accept the fact that one can no longer do what was possible in the past. However, that does not mean that one’s human dignity is lost.
Due to the declining birthrate and aging population, elder care has become a major issue. Caregiving is not easy even for a healthy young person. Especially in caring for people suffering from dementia, besides the physical burden, there are also psychological strains, such as enduring verbal abuse from a beloved family member. Situations of “seniors caring for seniors” as when a parent in his or her 90s is cared for by a child in the 70s or when an elderly person cares for a spouse are becoming normal. It is not unusual to hear sad news of a caregiver who has reached his or her physical and emotional limit killing parents or spouses. Nursing-care insurance has become widely available, and many outside hands now assist in caregiving, but it still cannot be said that the burden on the family has been sufficiently alleviated.
While the dedication of families is important, they need the involvement of public services and local cooperation in order to not be overwhelmed by caregiving burdens and to provide for those who need care.
Eliminating poverty among the elderly is another important issue for society. Among OECD member countries, Japan has the fourth highest poverty rate among those over the age of 65.【38】 Nearly half of households receiving welfare assistance are elderly, far surpassing households of the ill or disabled.【39】 In order to solve such poverty, it is necessary to develop various social security systems, but while guaranteeing the lives of elderly people, it is also necessary to ensure that those measures do not put excessive burdens on young people.
3-2. AN AGING SOCIETY AND THE CHURCH
What the Church can do
44. The loneliness of the elderly is a big social problem throughout the country. As relationships with neighbors lessen, there have been cases of elderly people whose bodies are discovered days or even months after they have died. All generations have a serious obligation to find solutions to the problem of people’s losing contact with society.
As people age, they retire from work, their children become independent, spouses predecease them and in many ways connections with other people and situations where one once felt needed are lost one by one. All these are behind the loneliness of elderly people. In addition, becoming physically impaired and needing to be taken care of by others deprives them of a sense that they are needed.
However, seniors have social contributions that only they can make. Seniors have spiritual maturity and experience-based wisdom that is a precious treasure for the youth and middle-aged in society. Society should be able to provide suitable situations for such elderly people to work. Encountering lively elderly people will encourage the next generations that will also grow old soon.
The Church can play an important role in this.
There are many elderly people in the Church who contribute to the community and society by utilizing their own experiences and demonstrating their abilities. For example, some make use of their experiences in learning support activities and support for immigrants.
Examples of the connection between the Church and society are the “Tea Salons” that were set up at volunteer bases in the disaster zone following the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. These salons bring together residents of temporary housing facilities, especially the elderly, to deepen their connections in an informal atmosphere. They helped to rebuild local relations and provided a place where people could relieve themselves even a little by talking about their painful circumstances. The Church and society should continue such activities that combine their wisdom and power.
There are many elderly people who are physically impaired and cannot easily come to church. It may be necessary to provide transportation to and from Mass or arrange visits to hospitals or homes. Such elderly people can give the rest of us opportunities to be needed. Far from losing dignity, people in such situations are given dignity as valuable members of the community.
Hope beyond death
45. Jesus Christ, who lived two thousand years ago and trusted God totally right until his death on the cross, loved all the people he met. The journey of Jesus’ life did not end with the death of his body, but has been completed under God beyond death, so Jesus is still alive. This is the faith of Christians, expressed in the word “resurrection.”
Based on this faith, we cannot think of life as something that simply begins with birth and ends at death. The ultimate goal of life is encounter with the eternal God. Given that, we are confronted with the question of what is most important to us. Old age and death are the gateway through which people must pass for a definitive encounter with God. Old age is the time to face that fact directly.
It is the wisdom of the believer to accept the various negative aspects that accompany ageing while trustingly looking behind them at God who guides us and who is opening both hands wide to welcome us warmly. God leads us in every aspect of life, and even though we die God does not abandon us. The
Psalmist sings of this trust in God.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
For you are with me,
Your rod and your staff ― they comfort me. (Psalm 23:1,4)
Compared to when we are young and can do a variety of things by our own power and pursue visible things, when we get old and experience weakness and suffering, we have a chance to look at what is really important.
46. A priest who lived in Japan as a dedicated missionary and influenced many people before quietly departing the world wrote the following beautiful poem.
The Best Work
What is the best work in the world?
To accept the years with a happy heart,
To rest though you want to work,
To be silent though you want to speak,
To hope though you feel disappointed,
To obediently, calmly, bear the cross. ……
Gradually removing the chains that bind you to this world.
That is truly great work.
When you can no longer do anything,
Humbly accept that fact.
In the end, God will leave you the best work.
When you cannot do anything else with your hands,
You can bring them together in prayer.
You can ask for God’s blessings on all you love.
And when you finish all this,
You will hear the voice of God at the end:
“Come, my friend, I will never abandon you.”【40】
CHAPTER THREE: ISSUES CONCERNING LIFE AND DEATH
1. INTRODUCTION: LIFE MANIPULATION AND BIOETHICS
Possibilities presented by science and technology
47. Humankind has made use of its God-given power to develop science and technology, including the ability to manipulate life. Knowledge of the life sciences has increased, and is being applied in the medical and industrial fields to intervene in human life and the environment surrounding it. Noteworthy technologies that intervene at the beginning and the end of life include reproductive assistance, regenerative medicine and life-prolonging treatments.
While some people attack “controlling life by using state-of-the-art technology” as “entering the realm of God,” others say that “there is no need to set any restrictions on the use of technology.” The position of the Catholic Church is to avoid the extremes. To cooperate with the God’s work of creation, developing technology and using it responsibly, is a mission entrusted to humanity by God.【41】
To protect life and the environment that sustains it, humans can make use of science and technology. Science and technology can provide care for life in various ways and contribute to each person’s dignity and the good of all.
Seeking shared human values
48. While science and technological intervention in nature may help life, there is also the possibility of their destroying human dignity and ecological balance. Therefore, we must ask how to set limits. How far may human beings go in doing the technically possible? This is a fundamental question that has been repeated since the academic field of bioethics was established.
In dealing with this issue, we must aim for a synthesis of knowledge and wisdom. Human beings are beginning to have enough knowledge to change themselves through science and technology, but we need to cultivate wisdom to appropriately use that knowledge. Humans must use their God-given power responsibly.
In modern times there have been many cases where technology-oriented thinking has allied with a dehumanized economics to threaten life.【42】 In the face of this situation, humanity needs values that can be shared. As a sign of that, in 2005 UNESCO adopted the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. This declaration goes beyond differences of thought and creed, and calls upon politicians and educators to seek shared values with respect to life, the dignity of individuals and the welfare of all humanity. Joining that pursuit, we want to add our contribution based upon our Biblical faith.
Care of life according to the Bible
49. As mentioned in Chapter 1, humans have received a mission to cooperate with God’s work of creation. Declaring God’s intention in creating humankind, the Bible says, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (see Genesis 1:28). When a man and a woman come together to create new life, they do so in collaboration with God the Creator. Likewise, plowing the ground and harvesting the fruits of life is also cooperation in God’s work of creation. According to the Bible, making the earth green requires both the grace of rain and the work of human hands.
“In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up ― for the Lord God has not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth and water the whole face of the ground” (Genesis 2:4b-6).
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).
Rain is a gift poured out from heaven, and it is humanity’s vocation to “till and keep” the earth that receives it. So, this human work is cooperation with God’s work of creation.
“The sacredness of life gives rise to its inviolability.”【43】 Our faith convinces us that this is so. Regarding interventions directed toward life, it is not right that humans do so as they wish. Rather, they must do so in cooperation with the work of creation. Giving thanks for what we have received, responsibly fulfilling the tasks or mission we have been given and taking care to protect the fragile gift of creation from human greed should be our basic attitude. When manipulating life and nature, it is an important principle to discover the direction contained in nature and to act in accord with that.
Everything is connected
50. Pope Francis talks about “integral ecology” repeatedly in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’. The phrase expresses a comprehensive understanding of bioethics that watch over life and environmental ethics that protect the natural environment. This “integral ecology” is also an issue of social ethics, that is, the conviction that efforts to unite people and to construct a peaceful society are inseparable from other tasks.
The issues concerning life and death that we cover in this chapter are diverse, but all of them are connected. We believe that work to protect life and bring it to fruition is cooperation with God’s work of creation and collaboration with God.
2. THE DIGNITY OF LIFE AND DEATH
51. How should we approach the new techniques of prenatal diagnosis made possible in the present age to cherish life from the beginning? Prenatal diagnosis cannot be considered separately from prejudice and discrimination. From the standpoint of respecting the human rights of persons with disabilities, concerns are always stated. On the other hand, some persons with disabilities do not want a child to undergo the discrimination they have faced themselves, and so consider prenatal diagnosis to be an act of compassion. To the extent that society makes life difficult for persons with disabilities, that attitude will remain and deepen. When thinking about prenatal diagnosis, our attitude toward persons with disabilities becomes a problem.【44】
52. Advantages of prenatal diagnosis include preventing accidents in childbirth, the possibility of starting treatment in the womb by discovering genetic abnormalities early, and giving parents time to prepare for the child’s birth in cases where congenital problems cannot be treated.
On the other hand, if information obtained from genetic testing is not adequately protected, there is a possibility of future discrimination in insurance, employment, marriage, etc. on the grounds that one carries a genetic abnormality. If abortion is chosen because prenatal testing shows some abnormality, it can be seen as an attack on the dignity of life and a denial of the right of people with disabilities to live. It is necessary to create an environment to understand the meaning of a diagnosis and to judge what to do about it.
53. We fear that prenatal diagnosis may lead to a eugenic attitude of rating lives. While the diagnostic technology is steadily improving, discussion about its pros and cons lags. As the eugenic thought of “ranking” life spreads and becomes dominant, we need sufficient discussion and legal regulations regarding it.
Commercial enterprises are entering the prenatal diagnosis business. The behavior of such businesses is governed by the pursuit of profit. Left on their own, they may come to treat life as a thing. Financial interests and technology will take precedence, and life will be commercialized, systemized and commodified. We must not turn our eyes from that terrible possibility.
Discriminatory valuating of life
54. Though initially prenatal diagnosis was meant to investigate the possibility of a child having a severe disability, it is now accepted as a tool for the “prevention” of the birth of persons with disabilities. Currently, in many cases where prenatal diagnosis finds chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus, abortion is chosen.【45】
We must stay aware that in our society there is discrimination against people with disabilities. There are people who think that some kinds of human beings should not be alive. Human beings have traditionally been seen to have dignity and value in themselves. However, we now seem to have an underlying social attitude that rates people on their “usefulness” or whether they pose a “burden.” People are valued based upon whether or not they are productive. This has a great influence on how persons with disabilities are perceived.
The danger of diagnosis becoming generalized
55. Today, it is possible to analyze three DNA abnormalities by examining fetal DNA carried in the blood of a pregnant woman. Testing can diagnose trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome), trisomy 13 (Patau Syndrome: severe intellectual disability and physical abnormalities) and trisomy 18 (Edwards Syndrome: intellectual disability, physical abnormalities, death in utero or infancy). The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology calls for limiting testing for chromosomal abnormalities to cases when the mother is elderly, when other examinations raise concerns or “cases where the fetus is likely to suffer from serious diseases.” The Society also requires a complete explanation to both parents and for both parents to agree to the testing. At the same time, the Society also states that, though this examination method is simple, “We should never offer it as a mass screening targeting all pregnant women.”【46】
The Japan Down Syndrome Association, concerned with the possibility of the elimination of persons with disabilities, “is strongly opposed to prenatal diagnosis through easy mass screening.”【47】
We share that concern. Deciding whether to perform prenatal diagnosis should be based upon informed consent, with clarity about what can be learned from testing and what choices might be faced as a result.
Happiness and value
56. It is not difficult to imagine the anxiety of parents who have been informed that their child in the womb has a disability. “What kind of future will this child face?” “How will our child live in with a handicap in this society?” It is not easy to live with a handicap in today’s society. We say we are convinced that human happiness and value and the beauty of true human life are not affected by the presence or absence of a disability. However, when we hear directly from persons with disabilities how difficult their lives are, the reality of what they face overwhelms us.
Nonetheless, we also know people with disabilities who tell us, “I am thankful to my parents who gave me birth,” and parents who say, “I’m glad I can share life with this child.” Reaching such a frame of mind requires a wonderful interaction of one’s own efforts and the support of others.
Aiming for a barrier-free society
57. Regardless of the presence or absence of disability, every human being is a traveler who is given a precious life from God and journeys through life toward God. Deeply respecting one another’s life, we are created to use our gifts to help each other. So, we need to revise our understanding of disability. The medical model says, “This person has a disability.” But, we must move to a social model that stresses that, “This person is handicapped by living in a society that makes living difficult.” In society, “rational consideration” is required for people who have various handicaps. Such consideration is not special treatment for specific persons. Since everyone has the possibility of being physically or mentally handicapped due to illness, accident or age, it is a concern for everyone.
“The quality of a society and a civilization are measured by the respect shown to the weakest of its members.”【48】 This statement comes from a document issued by the Vatican to mark the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981. A barrier-free society in which each person is respected, supported and heard, and actions aimed at building such a society are actualized goes beyond the “valuating” of life.
2-2. MANIPULATION OF THE HUMAN EMBRYO
Expectations and concerns for manipulation of human embryos
58. The embryo is the earliest stage of human development following the beginning of division in the fertilized egg. After several weeks of growth following its implantation in the uterus, it is known as a fetus.
The human embryo, the initial stage of human life, has now become an object that can be manipulated through genetic manipulation, cloning technology, and so on. That technology is progressing rapidly, and new methods and attempts come one after another. While it is expected that these new technologies will greatly contribute to the promotion of health and the treatment of diseases, there will be discussions on how much human intervention and manipulation in the process of the beginning of life can be permitted.
The embryo is already human
59. Because these technologies are very specialized, diverse and complicated, it is difficult for society as a whole to judge whether or not to use them. Determining that takes a lot of time and effort. What most concerns us is that life science technology is tied to the industrial world that gives priority to profits and efficiency, and as a result, human life is turned into a tool or a commodity.【49】 Because we believe that life is sacred and therefore inviolable we want to sound a warning against that.
Whatever the technique, the following points must be kept in mind:
- Since human embryos are already persons and have life as human beings, a condition of such research must be that the dignity of that life not be impaired;
- Human beings are not means or tools, but are themselves subjects, ends in themselves;
- Human embryos must not be destroyed on the grounds of usefulness;
- Care must be exercised that manipulation of life not become a new form of eugenics.
We do not intend make a simple claim that science and the development of medical technology “violate God’s domain.” In fact, to determine and clarify their contents and make them useful for the well-being of humankind is to fulfill the vocation given to humanity as image of God to be guardian of the order and harmony of this world.
In fulfilling this mission, and keeping in mind the continuity of the scientifically elucidated process of pregnancy, we insist on respecting life from the moment of fertilization and protecting it. A fertilized egg is a living person. Therefore, treating a fertilized egg or human embryo like a thing is to impair human dignity, and should not be allowed. Therefore, we hold the following convictions:
- The clearly distinguishable change that occurs when the formerly separate germ cells (ovum and sperm) unite is the birth of new life. There is a decisive difference between germ cells and a fertilized egg.
- Creating, using, manipulating or destroying such a living being always becomes an attack on human dignity.
Technology transitions to human embryo manipulation
60. As mentioned earlier, the rapid development of biology and medical technology has had a big impact on human life, especially the lives of people with diseases.
Since 1978 when the “test tube baby,” the world’s first baby born from an egg fertilized outside its mother, was born, this technology has been used in many countries.
In 1997, the world was surprised by the announcement of the birth of the cloned sheep Dolly, which was born without the fertilization of an egg by sperm. Cloning technology creates genetically identical cells and organisms. Cloning technology uses “embryonic cell clones” for reproductive purposes and “somatic cell clones” for purposes other than reproduction, such as creating tissues and organs. Each raises ethical issues.
In 1998, a research team in the United States cultivated fertilized eggs and succeeded in creating embryonic stem cells, ES cells, that can differentiate into various tissues. Human embryos, which previously existed only in women’s wombs, have been made and operated upon in the laboratory. It is expected that regenerative medicine that extracts ES cells from embryos created by cloning technology will be able to create various human tissues, and revitalize parts of the human body. This, too, presents major ethical problems.
Multiple researchers in 2007 succeeded in creating iPS cells that, unlike ES cells, can differentiate into various tissues by adding genes to somatic cells. While it is expected that this will be used for treating intractable neurological problems and regenerating organs, research on unknown potential dangers is continuing.
In addition, technologies such as recombining genes in cells have also been developed. Research on gene therapy is progressing for the treatment of diseases caused by the malfunctioning of specific genes and acquired diseases without using other treatments.【50】 It cannot be denied that there are beneficial aspects to research done with respect for the subjects, but it must not be forgotten that the object of such research is to improve human life.
Ethical judgments on life science technology
61. As mentioned above, various technologies for directly manipulating human cells have developed rapidly in the past few decades, and those developments continue to progress.
When new technologies emerge, it is necessary to make ethical judgments as to whether they are in accord with human dignity and acceptable to society. However, the speed of technological development has become so fast that society cannot keep up. Technologies that are judged to be ethically acceptable at a certain point may later be combined with other technologies and turn into problems. So, it is not acceptable to agree without careful examination to all the new life manipulation technologies that develop day by day.
Of course, technological progress should be welcomed, but we should humbly keep in mind that human beings are imperfect, and there is always a danger of producing some risk. Since there is a danger that technology concerning the life sciences could threaten human existence itself, special attention is necessary.
2-3. END-OF-LIFE CARE
Advances in medical care and ethical judgment
62. Because of developments in technology and social welfare, how to face the end of life is becoming an important subject. As it has become possible to use various medical means to prolong the terminal stage, it is getting harder to make ethical judgments about whether to start a treatment or about halting treatment once it has begun.
With the development of life-saving and palliative medical technologies, care at the end of life has greatly improved. At the same time, however, when there is no prospect of recovery and life is maintained through medical intervention, the question as to whether life-prolonging treatment that merely prolongs suffering is appropriate for human dignity. Specifically, it is increasingly being asked whether in such situations treatments like tracheal intubation, tube feeding, central vein nutrition, etc. should not be attempted or, when begun, should be terminated.
Death with dignity
63. Death with dignity is different from “active euthanasia” in which a patient’s death is brought about by the direct intervention of medical personnel. Death with dignity is sometimes referred to as “passive euthanasia” because it entails refraining from measures at the end of life that merely extend life. In various countries since the 1980’s, laws governing death with dignity have been enacted that protect the rights of both patients and doctors to stop life-prolonging procedures even when doing so may hasten death.
In Japan, there have been several incidents in which life support was withdrawn from terminally ill patients, causing citizens to mistrust medical care at the last stage of life.【51】 Among Japanese medical professionals, there is anxiety because the laws are unclear, and doctors do not know if their actions may be criminalized, or how to respond to concerned parties such as patient families. There are voices calling for clear rules. The Japan Association for Death with Dignity continues activities on behalf of legislation regarding death with dignity, and in 2012, Diet members interested in the issue proposed a law that would respect patients’ wishes regarding death with dignity.
Euthanasia and death with dignity
64. On the other hand, active euthanasia that kills patients in response to their request is legal in only a few countries, such as the Netherlands and Belgium. In Switzerland and the American state of Oregon, healthcare personnel can assist those who wish to commit suicide.【52】 There have been instances of euthanasia in Japan,【53】 and some organizations call for its legalization. There are dangers that the “right of self-determination” may be misunderstood to mean that one can do anything one wishes with one’s life, or that decisions about human life can be made based on efficiency and utility.
For the Catholic Church, such euthanasia is different from death with dignity.
When there is no likelihood of recovery, then refusing or discontinuing excessive medical treatment while relieving pain as much as necessary though they may hasten death should not be confused with euthanasia, and is permissible.【54】 Stopping medical treatment that only prolongs life and instead concentrating on appropriate palliative care is done not because the patient is going to die, nor to kill the patient, but out of respect for the dignity of a living human being.
Based on these distinctions, euthanasia intentionally performed with the direct purpose of bringing about death, is “a grave violation of the law of God”【55】 and is unacceptable.
The significance of death
65. Currently, most Japanese die in hospitals, while somewhat more than 10 percent die at home.【56】 It is rare for people to die while accompanied by their extended families and neighbors. Also, due to circumstances such as the increase in nuclear families without an extended network of relatives and the narrowness of houses, most funerals are conducted at funeral halls. So, we seldom, if ever, encounter a scene of death. Therefore, for modern people, death is something remote. Death is feared, excluded from daily life and driven out of sight. However, death is a part of life, and from the first moment of our lives we are walking step by step towards death. Thinking “How should I die?” leads to asking, “How should I live?”
How can humans live, knowing they shall die? When thinking about death, we must start by responding to these fundamental questions. Thinking about euthanasia is not simply about asking how to die. The living can learn a lot from dying people and renew awareness of their own lives and deaths.
Can we not say that viewing the significance of death in this way, it is clear the choice for euthanasia does not pay enough respect for human life?
Dying with dignity
66. It is wonderful that the hospice movement that emphasizes “care that various professionals and volunteers provide as a team with the aim of improving the quality of life of patients and their families facing life-threatening diseases”【57】 has spread throughout Japan. Palliative care alleviates patients’ pain and suffering, and enables them to live with a positive attitude until they die. This is neither hastening death nor aggressively prolonging it. In addition to medical care, psychological and spiritual care can also be provided, and it allows dying persons to spend their final time with family with dignity. We rejoice to know that hospice and hospice treatment methods born from the Christian tradition and philosophy have gradually been accepted and established in Japan.
In recent years, the tendency to organize matters for the end of life is spreading. There are even books that advise people how to prepare an “ending note” while still healthy. These notes, an important means of making one’s intentions clear, include living wills that express one’s wishes for terminal care. In addition to a living will, one can write a will, make known wishes for a funeral and grave, compile a list of family and friends, give directions for care of one’s pets, prepare personal messages for close friends and provide instructions for cancelling phone and other contracts and memberships. This makes it easier for survivors and friends to organize one’s affairs. It is also important to prepare oneself to better welcome the end.
2-4. BRAIN DEATH AND ORGAN TRANSPLANTS
Determination of death
67. Death comes to all people without exception. We who are given life enter a process of birth, growth, disease and aging, heading toward biological death.
From long ago, people have understood death as the cessation of breath. According to one theory, the etymological root of the Japanese word shinu (die) is shiinu (lose breath).【58】 Until the development of modern medicine, cessation of breathing was the basic criterion by which people could recognize death. If someone stopped breathing, he or she was declared dead, and funeral rites were held.
Now, because of advances in modern medicine, the determination of death is left to doctors. Family, friends and government agencies respect the judgment of doctors and accept their diagnosis of death. Generally, that diagnosis is based upon three signs: respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest and pupil dilation. People unquestioningly accept the fact of death based on these criteria.
Organ donation and brain death
68. However, with the further development of medical technology, in special cases where a patient is connected to life support equipment in an intensive care unit, the judgment of death has come to differ from the past. The new criterion is brain death. If conditions such as coma, unresponsive brain stem function or flat brain waves continue for a certain period, the patient is considered brain dead even though a machine artificially sustains a heartbeat.
Compared with Japan, Western societies accepted brain death as a criterion for death relatively early. However, lately interest in brain death has increased in Japan in relation to organ transplants. Even after the brain dies, various organs continue to function. Organ transplants using those still-living organs have a higher success rate than otherwise. Thus, in response to medical transplant treatment, a law regulating organ transplants was enacted in 1997 that accepted brain death as a criterion for death for those who had indicated in writing their intention to be an organ donor. In response to continuing discussions and growing societal and medical consensus, the law was amended in 2009.【59】
A bond with the dead
69. It is certain that many people are still unsure about whether to accept brain death as a person’s death. When a diagnosis of brain death has been made, the heart still beats, blood circulates and the body is warm to the touch.【60】 Therefore, even when a medical specialist has made a judgment of brain death, relatives and friends may not be able to accept it as death. While the body is warm and the heart is beating, friends and family continue to feel a bond with the person, and even when there is no reaction they attempt to communicate, speaking as if the person were still alive.
Therefore, while we think that a diagnosis of brain death should be made the standard, care must be taken to respect the bonds between the deceased and family and friends.
Clinical diagnosis, legal judgment and the process of accepting of death
70. It is necessary to understand the process of dying from three perspectives.
Clinical diagnosis of death occurs when it has been confirmed that various tissues and organs of the body have become dysfunctional and can no longer function as part of an organic unity or when destruction of the entire brain including the brainstem occurs even though breathing and blood circulation may be continued by medical equipment.
Medically confirming this condition is called a clinical diagnosis of death. This diagnosis is usually done according to the three symptoms mentioned earlier: respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest and pupil dilation. In special cases (for example, in a patient connected to a medical device, when the heart continues beating), a clinical diagnosis of death may be given when the irreversible destruction of the brain is confirmed.
Legal death is the social recognition and declaration of death. A death certificate is issued after certain procedures are followed, and a funeral may take place. This process can also be divided into normal cases and special cases. In the usual case, a death certificate will be prepared based on a clinical diagnosis. In the case of a diagnosis of brain death, if there is a plan to transplant organs, there will first be a determination of brain death based on law.
The process of accepting death. For both the deceased and the bereaved, death is not only a biological event but also a psychological event. For the dying person, the process begins with the announcement of a fatal condition and having to deal with the question of how to face and accept death. For families accompanying the dying, there arises the problem of how to view the situation. And after death, it is very important to receive condolences, to mourn, to reflect and to regret.
Brain death is medically decisive and irreversible, but besides its social and cultural aspects the death of a human being has spiritual and emotional aspects. This must be emphasized because in organ transplantation, adequate consideration for bereaved families must be guaranteed. Human death has a different meaning than the death of other animals. It is not merely an irreversible suspension of an organism’s metabolic functions. Therefore, it is important that the person who is dying and those who are left behind face death.
In short, it is necessary to distinguish between the biological “death of a member of the human species” and “the death of this person.”
This is not to object to organ transplants in the case of brain death. Deepening people’s understanding of organ transplants and promoting organ donation are desirable. However, since the human body is not a machine, we cannot harvest organs as if they were parts. A brain-dead body is not a thing. Even if organ removal is permitted, sensitivity to the bereaved family as well as respect for the bodies are essential. For the family, the time after someone’s breath has stopped is an important one. It takes time to accept death. To do so we need that time.
It’s all in God’s hands
71. We affirm the value of organ transplantation, whether from living donors, after brain death or after cardiac arrest. Through the “good news” of modern medicine, transplants restore health and the possibility of extended life to people who had given up hope.【61】 As far as possible it is a duty of love for us for human beings to give encouragement and necessary help to support another’s God-given life. The Catholic Church has affirmed organ donation as an act of love toward others for over half a century.【62】
However, for organ transplantation from corpses to be ethical, it is necessary that the following conditions be satisfied:
- Safety and effectiveness;
- Avoidance of unfair distribution, sale or commercialization;
- Donation by free will as indicated by the donor or the bereaved family;
- Clinically and legally confirmed death;
- Respect for the dead body and care for the bereaved family.
The Church affirms organ transplants with conditions, but it also points out that transplant medical care is a special medical treatment. Organ donation must be a free and generous act on the part of the donor, and if the donor intends it to take place after death, it should be possible only after the donor dies. It is said that in countries where transplant medical care is thriving, the phrase “organ shortage” is frequently heard. When organs are looked upon as parts, it is impossible to say that a society is healthy when it is waiting for providers to die. While we support the development of medicine to save critically ill patients, we also acknowledge the limits of human beings and medical care, and stress that accepting the reality of death is also important.
We cannot affirm a lifestyle that refuses to look directly at the meaning of death for life, that gives priority to trying to lengthen life on earth and even commercializing organs with the logic of a consumer. Human life and death are given a mysterious value that cannot be lessened by the logic of the world. In his cross and resurrection, Jesus Christ has shown us that new life. The life of resurrection is life beyond death, life through the power of God (see Luke 20:38).
We wish to remind all people involved in organ transplantation that human life is oriented towards eternal life. Life is God’s gift, and is directed toward fellowship with God. Death is the gate through which everyone must pass on their journey from this world to eternal life. Even if a life cannot be saved by new medical technology such as organ transplantation, we must journey with the trust that both life and death are in the hands of God, not losing sight of the hope that arises from that.
2-5. SUICIDE / SELF-DEATH
The reality of suicide in Japan
72. The number of suicides in Japan exceeded 30,000 each year for 14 years from 1998. In response to this serious situation, various countermeasures have been taken by the government and the private sector. At the national level, the Basic Law on Suicide Countermeasures was enacted in 2006, and a cabinet decision on Suicide Combined General Measures Outline was made in 2007. In the private sector, various efforts to prevent suicide, especially support for people who have been economically battered have spread. As a result, in the statistics for 2012, the number of suicides fell below 30,000, and this trend continues. However, although suicide among middle-aged and older people due to economic reasons has decreased, youth suicide has not decreased.【63】
Of course, the problem of suicide cannot be understood from statistics alone. In addition to those who actually commit suicide, there are far more suicide attempts and persons who consider suicide. Suicide also causes great suffering to family and close friends, and the number of bereaved families is enormous.
Death under pressure
73. Suicide has various causes.
Although there are special cases in which life is risked on a dare, most suicide in modern times is caused by diseases such as depression, schizophrenia and addiction. In many cases, various factors pile up and eventually lead from depression to suicide. These factors include a variety of things such as physical illness, major debts, economic difficulties, changes in the workplace environment, unemployment, workplace human relations, overwork, bullying, abuse and sexual violence. They trigger depression, which often leads to suicide.
Thus, rather than being a freely made choice, most of the time suicide is the result of pressures that lead to a situation in which death seems the only escape.
Suicide was once thought to be an individual problem. The person’s way of thinking and personality were thought to cause suicide. But now, suicide is considered a social problem. This is a big change.
74. Due to such a change in thinking, the term “self-death” has become commonly used in Japanese instead of the word “suicide” (in Japanese, “self-murder”) which has a nuance of choosing death of one’s own will. Especially when referring to the bereaved families of people who have self-deceased, it has become the norm to use the phrase “self-deceased survivors” in consideration of their feelings.
Some people who consider ending their life have both a desire to die and a desire to live. Statistics show that many of them seek help right to the end.【64】
However, people who commit self-death usually have the problem of isolation in common. In some cases, even though there are people who can offer understanding and support, the suffering person does not realize it, and carries the problems and worries alone. However, it is certain that in many situations it is difficult to find someone with whom to talk about troubles, and then it cannot be considered a problem solely of the individual.
With the progress of urbanization, modern society has rapidly weakened local and family bonds. No matter how many people are in a city, each of them is terrifyingly isolated. “Don’t bother others,” or, “Work out your problems yourself without relying on others,” becomes a sort of oppressive common sense. In such circumstances, a situation arises in which no one can talk about troubles.
In this situation, various suicide prevention efforts are carried on by private organizations like Life Line and local government counseling offices. It is a very important work and we honor those who do it.
The Catholic Church has traditionally considered suicide to be a sin. Part of the reason for that strictness was to give pause to those considering ending a life that is a gift from God. While continuing to believe in that giftedness, we hope to become a Church community that can stay close to people troubled to the point of wanting to die, being with them in their pain.
To those left behind
75. The self-death of a family member or friend is hard for those left behind. In particular, the self-death of a parent, child or close friend in the workplace or school has a big impact. Survivors ask themselves many questions. “Was it my fault?” “Did I say or do something that triggered this?” “Why didn’t I see it coming?” “Should I have done something?” Survivors blame themselves for their inability to do anything. The more intimate the relationship, the harder it is to break out of that kind of thinking.
We realize such difficulties, and we encourage people to lift their hearts to God and entrust themselves to God who understands all. Our faith is that life is not ended in this world, but that it is connected with the world of God. After the journey of this world is over, the life of all people is unleashed from the labors and burdens of this earth, and it is caught up in the life of the eternal God.
God is righteous but also merciful. How God judges and accepts people who have finished life in this world is a mystery far beyond our minds. Judgment should be left in the hands of God who sees everything. When we consider the complex reality of this world and the weakness of human beings, we believe that God’s mercy will be richly poured out on those who have self-died.
In the Old Testament, God says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15).
Jesus Christ also invites people to “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
For us Christians, these words of the Bible are a trustworthy source of hope.
Unfortunately, the Church has shown a cold, judgmental and discriminatory face toward those who have self-died, saying that to cut short one’s own life is a great sin against the God of life. We acknowledge that fact and we deeply regret it.
Based on this reflection, the Church community now devotes itself to working to change our past wrongs through requiem Masses and prayers on behalf of the dead who need the mercy of God and their bereaved families who need consolation and encouragement.
If you have lost someone close to you by self-death, we encourage you more than anything else to pray. Your feelings of grief and self-blaming will not disappear right away, but prayer is the way of salvation that opens toward life hearts shut in darkness. It is a dialogue with God that at the same time develops a dialogue with the person who has died. Conversation with God will give you confidence that human life does not end in this world and will comfort your heart. Also, the dialogue with the deceased under the light of God will help you realize that the bonds between us human beings are not cut off by the death of the body, but continuing in invisible form. Peace and peace and hope are born where prayer exists.
2-6. CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
The Church’s call for abolition of capital punishment
76. The Catholic Church teaches that due to the strict application of the penal system today it is possible to prevent the recurrence of crime and secure the safety of society in ways other than the death penalty. Considering the preciousness of human life, we believe that capital punishment has lost its reason for existence. This attitude of the Catholic Church toward the abolition of the death penalty was made clear in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae in 1995.【65】Subsequently, in May 2018 Pope Francis ordered the rewriting of paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to declare that “the death penalty is inadmissible” in the light of the gospel. In the Japanese Church as well, voices calling for the abolition of the death penalty are increasingly rising.【66】 This also fulfills the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The principle that “Life is sacred and therefore inviolable” must be applied to all problems related to the basics of life.【67】 The death penalty issue is no exception.
Death penalty abolition and Japan
77. In most advanced major countries, capital punishment has been abolished. The United States (except for some states) and Japan are exceptions.【68】 The United Nations in 1989 adopted an optional protocol by which nations that became parties to it would end executions, but Japan has still not joined them. A recent opinion poll reports that 80 percent of people accept the death penalty.【69】 These opinion polls have been criticized as having problems in the questions themselves, but in any case, public opinion in itself does not constitute an ethical standard. In its recommendation to the Japanese government submitted in October 2008 the United Nations Human Rights Committee said, “Regardless of opinion polls, the State party should favorably consider abolishing the death penalty and inform the public, as necessary, about the desirability of abolition.” That recommendation should be taken seriously.
What is punishment?
78. Although it is natural that punishment is imposed on crimes, we must consider what kind of punishment leads to the rehabilitation of the criminal and the protection of people’s safety. Punishment is not meant to satisfy victims and their families nor to assuage the anger of society, but must function to punish offenders for their crime and enable rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The death penalty deprives criminals of opportunities for repentance, atonement and rehabilitation, making their journey to rebirth impossible.
Also, we must think about the problem of wrongful convictions. If the death penalty is carried out on an innocent person, the possibility of correcting the wrong judgment will be lost forever. The death penalty cannot be justified because of the undeniable possibility that a court will make an erroneous decision.【70】
There is a notion that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime. However, studies, including surveys by the United Nations, frequently show that the death penalty does not deter crime.【71】
Victims’ feelings and the possibility of amends
79. Feelings of anger and revenge on the part of victims and their families, relatives and friends are also given as grounds for capital punishment. However, even if the death penalty appeases those feelings of anger and revenge, does that really bring peace to the hearts of bereaved families?
Not all bereaved families desire the perpetrator’s death. A man whose younger brother was killed for insurance money wrote:
I do not have anything to say about whether we should abolish the death penalty. But at least from my experience, I began to question justifying the death penalty because of “victims’ feelings.” Capital punishment kills people. When I hear, “because the victims wish it,” I feel like I’m being told, “You are a person who wants a prison officer to put a noose around someone’s neck and kill him,” and I don’t want that. I cannot bear to think of myself as a man who wants others to be killed. I shudder at the label “bereaved family member” affixed to myself. That label seems to say, “I am so filled with hatred, that I desire revenge, waiting for the perpetrator to be killed.”【72】
Further, he wrote to the Minister of Justice to say he opposed the death penalty and asking for an interview with the murderer. “I think that bereaved survivors are looking not for an execution but for an apology, for remorse. Because the perpetrator is a living being, I think that he will have a sense of regret and remorse.” “Giving us a place for an encounter at least provides an opportunity for the perpetrator to apologize and intensify his feelings of remorse.”【73】
Of course, there are probably few survivors who think like this. However, even if we accept capital punishment as revenge, must we not think about it more deeply and admit that the hearts of bereaved families will still not regain true peace?
There are some who say that while the death penalty as individual revenge is not valid, it should be acceptable as a state action. But is it legitimate for a nation to retaliate against a criminal, treating the life of any human being as unnecessary? The death penalty is, after all, murder by the state. A country that regards murder as a vicious crime because that nation respects life cannot help feeling a contradiction in sponsoring murder, even if doing so is considered an exception. By killing a murderer and repaying violence with violence, we cannot cut the chain of violence caused by violent crime.
When perpetrators acknowledge their sins, repent and apologize from the heart to the victims, it is possible to restore a human connection between them. We know that we should not let go of this hope, even though we know that it is very difficult in reality.
The religious perspective and the meaning of forgiveness
80. As we have said repeatedly, life belongs to God. Scripture says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19; see Deuteronomy 32, 35). Authority over life and death is in the hands of God. Whatever the reason and how just it appears, for us to rob another human being of life in the name of the national community impinges on God’s authority.
We should note how in the biblical book of Genesis, when Cain is banished for killing his younger brother Abel, “The Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him” (Genesis 4:15). Here we can see a message denying the death penalty. The mark encourages Cain to reflect on the crime he has committed, and is a sign of the love of God that gives people the possibility of living to the end despite terrible sin. Indeed, the possibility of repentance is opened only when the way to life is opened.
The crucial judgment to end a human life with the death penalty closes the way to human maturity. As followers of Christ who when asked how often we must forgive said, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven times” (Matthew 18:22), we are convinced that true maturity and perfection as human beings comes when we go beyond respecting mutual fundamental human rights based on rights and obligations, and with free love and devotion offer forgiveness to sinners. Forgiving the seemingly unforgiveable shows the true splendor of humanity.
It is the path of Christ who before his crucifixion commanded the disciple to put away his sword and who with his dying breath prayed that those who crucified him might be forgiven. Christ’s power to attract many people and appeal to the hearts of many is not found in retaliation but in the fact that he gave his life for the path of forgiveness.
The “forgiving” by followers of Jesus does not obscure the reality of the crime nor release the offender without a just trial. Forgiveness is a long journey. By continuing to pray for the criminal’s conversion, that is, his or her acknowledging sin and repenting, while also continuing to pray that one’s own heart will be freed of hatred and vengefulness, we draw near to the real meaning of forgiveness and reconciliation.
3. THREATS TO LIFE
Changes in environmental problems
81. Generally, environmental problems occur in the natural environment. At issue is the destruction of the environment caused by exploiting natural resources beyond their natural self-regeneration capability and discharging and discarding into nature chemical substances that cannot be decomposed or cycled.
It was between the 1950s and the 1970s that such environmental problems became widely recognized in Japanese society. In this period of high economic growth, it became clear that air pollution from smokestack exhaust and water pollution from industrial runoff caused Yokkaichi asthma, Minamata disease and Itai-Itai disease. In addition, during this period the living environment worsened due to destruction of forests and hills because of housing development and air pollution caused by automobile exhaust. Also, as homes became materially rich, consumption of resources and the amount of refuse increased rapidly. A lifestyle that routinely uses chemical substances such as plastics and synthetic detergents has become standard, and so industry is not the sole cause of destruction.
Since the 1970s, as advances in science and technology and the globalization of economic markets have progressed rapidly, environmental problems have changed. In the 1970s when the depletion of natural resources and weather anomalies that technology and consumerism entail due to mass production, mass consumption, and mass disposal began to be pointed out, the term “global environmental crisis” was coined. This global problem, represented by global warming, loss of biodiversity, disappearing tropical forests, desertification, soil degradation, marine pollution, acid rain, etc. threatens the future of humankind.
For example, global biodiversity has deteriorated at an unprecedented rate. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has reported that the number of animal species worldwide declined by 52 percent between 1970 and 2010.【74】 Forests, the main habitat of living things, are also in crisis. Forests are not only a treasure trove of biodiversity but also absorb carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming. They keep the global environment healthy while maintaining abundant water supplies. However, between 2000 and 2010, 13 million hectares of forest were lost annually throughout the world. Even taking into account tree planting and natural expansion, the net disappearance is still 5.2 million hectares annually, equivalent to approximately 14 percent of Japan’s land area.【75】
While the decrease in biodiversity is mainly due to excessive development, in recent years, it has become increasingly important to note other human interventions, such as the introduction of genetically modified organisms and ecosystems, as well as of alien species. Another factor has been the loss as the rural populations has declined of the satochi-satoyama system in which the land was divided into appropriately mixed small ecosystems.
Technological principles and economic activities are not the only causes of ecosystem destruction. There are also cases where forests and coral reefs are heedlessly lost to the construction of new military bases. There is a problem of justice when the nature of an area and its residents are sacrificed in the name of national security.
The growing perception of environmental problems and social justice
82. The first international conference on environmental issues was held in 1972 as global environmental problems emerged around the world. The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (also called the Stockholm Conference) is known for its catchphrase “Only One Earth.” Since this meeting, it has been recognized that there can be no improvement in environmental problems without solving poverty issues because global environmental issues are not only concerned with the depletion of natural resources and pollution, but are interrelated with diverse social issues like poverty, conflict, refugees, human rights, health and sanitation, employment, welfare, education and gender.
At the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (also known as the Rio Summit, Rio Conference and Earth Summit) held in 1992, it was recognized that although environmental issues are a common responsibility for all countries, developing countries and advanced countries have different capabilities in solving them. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20) in 2012 stressed the urgency of developing “sustainable consumption and production,” consolidating the issues of environment, economy and society.
In the Catholic Church, Pope Francis promulgated the encyclical Laudato Si’ (2015) concerning the environment. The pope points out that the vicious circle of mass production, mass consumption and mass disposal that forms our disposable culture is a major cause of global environmental problems. He repeatedly emphasizes that it is the developing countries and the poor who most suffer the negative effects of wealthy consumers’ actions.
The “ecological debt” owed to the poor of the present generation is a big problem, but there is an additional question of “intergenerational ethics,” that is, the responsibility to not endanger the survival of future generations. Environmental problems are social justice issues about fairness within and between generations.
Various aspects of the environmental crisis
83. In his encyclical Laudato Si’ Pope Francis clearly grasps the various aspects of the current ecological crisis and recognizes that environmental problems are not mere natural resource issues nor simply social problems. At first glance, environmental problems may look like a matter of the natural environment, but a closer look shows that there are various facets to the issue. In the first place, it is impossible to grasp environmental problems simply with the premise that “environment = nature.” Human beings receive the natural resources they need through some sort of social environment of institutions and mechanisms for fresh water and clean air. Furthermore, we must ask how much our ideas, values and wills, our internal environment, is determined these surrounding environments. We cannot deal with environmental problems that are problems of the human subject itself, without considering the internal environment that enables human life.
“Integral Ecology” and the health of life
84. Based on the assumption that the problems of the natural environment arise from diverse connections, it is necessary to see that what has not been discussed in the field of environmental problems until now must be reexamined in relation to nature. Human physical, existential and social aspects cannot be ignored when looking at our relationship with nature.
Pope Francis says, “Ecology studies the relationship between living organisms and the environment in which they develop. This necessarily entails reflection and debate about the conditions required for the life and survival of society, and the honesty needed to question certain models of development, production and consumption. It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected.”【76】
That is why it is impossible to grasp the facts of environmental issues that are problems of humans and their societies using only natural ecology and environmental ecology that treat humans as a single species or as a component of the ecosystem. Human existence has different elements that have unique yet integrated properties. Human uniqueness means that humans can participate actively in relationships with nature and that they are charged with responsibility for how such relationships exist.
From this point of view, Pope Francis presents a new concept of “integral ecology.”【77】 It shows the true sense of sustainable development, seeking respect for “the common good” which goes beyond mere public welfare as the basic principle of the establishment of community.
In the past, the Church has presented the human ideal in three dimensions: harmony with God, harmony with self and harmony with human beings. Integral ecology proposes adding the dimension of harmony with nature. The pope describes a spirituality (a way of life based on faith) based on this harmony with nature as “ecological spirituality.” Human beings can truly achieve total human development for the first time by considering the overall nature of life as a global ecosystem.
We also hope that our Church will deepen this ecological way of life and work with all people living on this same earth to fulfill our responsibilities to this and future generations.
3-2. NUCLEAR POWER GENERATION
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, 2011
85. The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that occurred on March 11, 2011 spawned a huge tsunami and caused enormous damage to the Tohoku and Kanto regions. Due to this earthquake and tsunami, the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station lost all power supply except for its Unit 6. A meltdown of nuclear fuel occurred, melting down to the bottom of the pressure vessel, and part of it is presumed to have penetrated the bottom of the container (melt-through). A hydrogen explosion and breakage of the reactor containment vessel released a large amount of radioactive material that spread contamination widely in eastern Japan, north to Aomori prefecture and south to Shizuoka prefecture. In August 2011, the government estimated that radioactive cesium 137 equivalent to 168.5 Hiroshima atomic bombs was released in this accident.【78】 Due to seasonal winds about 90 percent of it blew over the Pacific Ocean and 10 percent spread to land. Depending on weather conditions, a vast area including the whole Kanto region was also likely to have been seriously contaminated.
According to the Fukushima prefectural government, as of July 2016, more than five years after the accident, about 89,000 people from the prefecture continued to live as evacuees both in and out of the prefecture. As the evacuation continues, deaths are being caused by its physical and mental burdens, as well as people’s despair of ever regaining their former lives. Due to various circumstances, members of families were forced to evacuate to different places and have still not come together. There are reports that children who were evacuated are bullied at their new schools. Although decontamination work continues, a wide area that includes the towns of Okuma, Futaba, Tomioka and Namie is still designated a “difficult to return zone.” Decommissioning the nuclear power plants that caused the accident is expected to take several decades and it is difficult to predict when the work will be complete.
Problems of nuclear power plants
86. There are various problems that come with nuclear power generation.
- Whatever the cause, whether natural disasters, human errors, intentional attacks, etc., once a serious accident occurs, it is inevitable that harmful contamination will spread over a wide area extending through one country or several countries.
- Even in the normal operation process, nuclear power plants involve environmental pollution as well as workers’ exposure to radioactivity. Mining and smelting uranium ore for nuclear fuel production causes health damage to workers, and soil and water are polluted by slag deposits near mines. During nuclear operations, workers are exposed to radiation as they labor in contaminated areas. Japan’s nuclear power plants are said to have been supported at the cost of the exposure of about 500,000 workers.【79】 In addition to the risks of the work itself and concerns about health damage, there are many cases where workers’ rights are violated by multiple subcontracting structures, camouflage contractors, intervention of gangsters, and so on. Moreover, labor in radiation contaminated areas after an accident is not limited to decontamination work. Radiation exposure also endangers those involved in roadwork, construction, cleanup and waste disposal.
- Nuclear power plants produce spent fuel containing many fission products and plutonium. In Japan, spent nuclear fuel is stored in a pool in the nuclear reactor building or in a storage pool at a reprocessing plant in Rokkasho village in Aomori Prefecture. Highly radioactive substances are contained in spent nuclear fuel, many of them having a half-life exceeding 10,000 years. The government has been promoting a subterranean disposal plan by adopting a Specified Radioactive Waste Disposal Act in 2000, but the years have passed without progress. On the other hand, the “nuclear fuel cycle,” which reprocesses spent nuclear fuel and produces plutonium that can be used as fuel again, was put in place as the pillar of Japan’s nuclear policy. But in December 2016, the government decided to decommission the Monju fast breeder reactor that was the key facility, and so it is not yet possible to realize the “cycle.”
- The discrepancy between those who benefit from nuclear power generation and those who live with the risks is unfair both geographically and generationally. In recent years, the field of environmental ethics has emphasized intergenerational ethics, that is, responsibility to future generations.
- The possibility of diversion of nuclear materials to military use cannot be denied. In the face of calls to abolish nuclear power plants after the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, arguments for the necessity of nuclear power have been raised including the need to secure a stable power supply, but among them “nuclear deterrence” has also been put forward as a rationale.【80】 In fact, this rationale had been presented from time to time even before the nuclear accident.【81】
87. Looking back on history from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, through the exposure of crew members of the Number 5 Fukuryu Maru fishing boat and others caught in nuclear tests, criticality accidents at nuclear fuel factories and even radiation exposure from power plant accidents, the Japanese people have repeatedly experienced the disaster of nuclear power. Therefore, we Japanese have a great historical responsibility to remember the harm caused by nuclear technology, to remain in solidarity with hibakusha (victims of nuclear power) around the world and work toward solving the nuclear problem.
Based on these experiences unique to Japan, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan has a strong conviction that life and nuclear power cannot coexist.
In November 2011, eight months after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant incident, we bishops published a message, “Abolish Nuclear Plants Immediately: Facing the Tragedy of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant Disaster.” Five years later, the bishops’ conference announced another message, “On the Abolition of Nuclear Power Generation: A Call by the Catholic Church in Japan Five and a Half Years after the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant Disaster.”【82】 Major points of that document include:
- “Nuclear fission rarely occurs naturally on earth, and when it is brought about artificially, the energy released is vastly greater than the forms of energy that sustain life, and also vastly greater than the conventional energy generated through combustion of fuels.”
- “Once a serious nuclear accident occurs, the lives of people in the immediate area are radically disrupted, and the resulting environmental damage from radiation will spread beyond borders and across time,”
- “We have also come to understand that there are powerful forces that stand in the way of abolishing nuclear power.”
- “Humans are naturally able to live happily in peace if they do so harmoniously in relation to themselves, to others, to the natural environment and to God.”
- “When making judgments about atomic energy, we must do so from the point of view of protecting the dignity of all human beings, both in the present and in the future.”
Pope Francis issued the encyclical Laudato Si’ in 2015, appealing for humanity to work seriously on the environmental and social crises facing modern society. Although the Pope does not clearly condemn nuclear power in this encyclical, he states that an ideology that makes science and technology the universal and unconditional determinants of modern society is at the root of the present crisis situation in the world.【83】 There is danger in the fact that nuclear energy and other new technologies produce tremendous power that is held by only a few people with knowledge and economic power.【84】 Also, the pope sharply criticizes the fact that “businesses profit by calculating and paying only a fraction of the costs involved,” and, “little concern is given to whether it is at the cost of future resources or the health of the environment.”【85】
Pope Francis adds, “Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.”【86】
Poverty spreading all over the world
88. When many people think of poverty, they think of those suffering from starvation in conflict zones and developing countries. Indeed, it is said that more than 700 million people live on less than $1.90 a day.【87】 While there are many people suffering from absolute poverty, lacking food, clothing and shelter, mainly in Africa, poverty is also a major problem in industrialized countries that are economically developed. The total assets of the eight wealthiest individuals in the world are almost equal to the total assets of the lowest 3.6 billion people, half the world population.【88】
Poverty in Japan
89. In economically developed Japan, poverty was thought to have been eradicated. After the Second World War, extreme poverty struck society, but then, thanks to high economic growth Japan became one of the world’s leading economic powers. People spoke of “a middle class of one hundred million,” and poverty was regarded almost nostalgically as something from the distant past.
However, in the 1990s, following the collapse of the bubble economy and the transformation of industry due to globalization, people now speak of Japan’s “lost decade” or “lost 20 years” to describe this period of economic depression that shows no sign of ending. We have entered a time when middle aged and elderly working people lose their jobs to risutora (restructuring) and young people who complete their education cannot find jobs.
People’s eyes are now focused on problems of inequality and poverty that had hardly been noticed before.
The background to the spread of disparity and poverty is a severe employment situation. In the 2000s, the employment situation has rapidly deteriorated. One in three workers has a low-paying job that provides no job security and few or no social security benefits, a situation said to be unique among developed nations. The rate of such underemployment is especially high among young people, and half of workers in their 20s are in this situation.
The relative poverty rate reached 16.1 percent in 2012.【89】 The poverty rate among the elderly, single women and children is particularly high. In addition, the number of people receiving welfare assistance continues to increase year by year, and as of March 2016 reached 2.16 million, with the number of households receiving assistance exceeding 1.63 million.【90】
The situation in Japan where it was believed that poverty had been eradicated has changed drastically, and we are now in an era where many people can fall into poverty. At the same time disparities are expanding. There are young people who must give up hopes for higher education because of the expense. That creates a chain of poverty, a situation where escape becomes increasingly difficult.
Even as it makes a show of tackling poverty through alleviation measures, the government is promoting reductions in welfare assistance and strengthening oversight. The poverty of children who are not responsible for their situation is severe, yet increasingly there tends to be an attitude that poverty is due to the negligence and irresponsibility of adults.
Rejecting an economy of exclusion and inequality
90. The Catholic Church has long emphasized that we must face and fight problems of disparity and poverty. The social doctrine of the Church consistently insists on the principle that goods exist for all, and stresses that special attention must be paid to the poor.
Pope Francis frequently points out the importance of the Church community’s efforts to combat disparity and poverty. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality.” The pope teaches that “today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.”【91】
The problem of non-material poverty
91. Poverty is not simply a lack of money.
Pope Benedict XVI said that in addition to material poverty there are “non-material forms of poverty.” “For example, in advanced wealthy societies, there is evidence of marginalization, as well as affective, moral and spiritual poverty, seen in people whose interior lives are disoriented and who experience various forms of malaise despite their economic prosperity.”【92】
On a visit to Japan, Mother Teresa once pointed out that the greatest poverty Japan has as an economic superpower is the number of people who think they are not needed.【93】
A lack of things or money can be made up for materially, but it is not easy to solve the poverty of having no one to talk with, having no place to feel at home or feeling isolated from society.
That is an aspect of the difficulty of solving the basic problem of poverty. For example, there are reports of people who had lived on the street receiving housing, but who felt isolated and returned to life on the street. Such people say that when they were living on the street they did not feel lonely because they were among friends, but when they started living in apartments, it was painful to not know anyone.
Among single mothers who are struggling to raise children alone, many have jobs that keep them at work until late at night. Therefore, there are children who simply buy lunch boxes at a convenience store and eat dinner alone. To reach out to such children, a network of people who operate Kodomo Shokudo (kids’ canteens) has spread all over the nation. A woman who operates such a cafeteria for children in Iwate prefecture said, “The problem is not only money, but isolation caused by a lack of time and connections. The value of the kodomo shokudo is not just as a place where children simply eat a meal. Children and adults also need a place to obtain information, support, access and belonging that cannot be gained in a state of social isolation.”【94】
It is important to solve material poverty, but at the same time we must look at non-material forms of poverty that may be brought about by material poverty.
What the Church can do
92. Pope Francis has appealed to us, saying, “Money must serve, not rule! … the rich must help, respect and promote the poor.”【95】
The Second Vatican Council strongly called for action, and quoted the patristic saying, “Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him, you have killed him.”【96】
Many churches arrange donations and other aid activities for the needy in poor countries. There are churches that make efforts against poverty in their own vicinity. Some churches conduct meal services or deliver food to homeless people. Others provide facilities for children’s activity centers. Also, there seems to be a movement for the Church to cooperate with food banks that take food that is going to be discarded before its expiration date and deliver it to those in need. These are just a few activities connected with life.
It is not easy to solve the problems of poverty and inequality that threaten to overwhelm us. But there are things that our Church can do to rescue people from the loneliness and isolation that come from feeling unneeded and unwanted.
As followers of Jesus who said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20), we see poverty as a “problem of life.” We will continue to unite with our neighbors to respond to this challenge.
Discrimination is deprivation of life
93. Our life is not merely a biological matter. Life is related to the whole human being. It consists of a harmony of relationships with God, oneself, others and nature. Discrimination is a concern of life because it destroys this harmony. Discrimination wounds human life. Discrimination in effect kills a human being.
Nearly everybody agrees with the idea that everyone is equally precious and valuable. However, it is also true that some people are discriminated against. We may be discriminated against ourselves, or we may be complicit in discrimination without even noticing it. Why does this happen?
Developing understanding of human rights
94. Discrimination is the treating of groups or individuals in disparate, unbalanced and disadvantageous ways based upon attributes such as race, gender, age, etc.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted at the Third General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948, shortly after the end of the Second World War. The fact that so soon after a major war a declaration of human rights rather than of peace or pacifism was issued shows the basic conviction that the elimination of discrimination and the establishment of the human rights of all people is the basis for peace.
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” (Article 1)
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” (Article 2, Clause 1))
What we regard as discrimination will change depending on the development of our understanding of human rights, the mores of society and the times. For example, there has been a change from the “medical model” that regards disability as a problem of the individual’s body, to the “social model” that sees the problem as one of society. The situation of persons with disabilities is not a matter of welfare but human rights, and in recent decades the attitude that persons with disabilities are “objects of protection” has changed significantly to the idea that they are “subjects with rights.”
In 2006, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Japan ratified in 2014. The treaty states that even if there are differences in what one can do, the possession and exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms should not be hindered Unlike previous treaties on human rights, persons with disabilities were themselves involved in the drafting of the document under the slogan “Nothing about us without us!”【97】
Discrimination in Japan
95. To discriminate is not just to directly insult others or even eliminate them. Beyond discrimination among individuals, there are also cultural forms of discrimination that include institutional discrimination in law, education, politics, etc., as well as standards of beauty. Those in a strong position in society such as members of a majority do not have the opportunity to be aware of the structures of discrimination, and even when they discriminate, they are sometimes unaware of it.
Buraku (outcast) discrimination based on the historical status structure formed in the development of Japanese society is very serious and deep-rooted in Japan. Today, though the poor living conditions of Buraku and their school enrollment rate have improved,【98】 they still face discrimination at such life milestones as employment and marriage. Discrimination also appears in real estate, where land prices in Dowa (Buraku) districts are lower than in surrounding neighborhoods. There was a major incident when in the 1970s it was discovered that many companies were purchasing books that were collectively referred to as “Buraku neighborhood management,” where the names and addresses of Buraku were listed. As late as 2016, a book billed as its original text was about to be reprinted and published until a court issued a temporary injunction. Even so, discriminatory information continues to be disseminated, and the elimination of Buraku discrimination has not yet been realized.
In addition, forced isolation of leprosy patients continued in Japan for over 90 years due to erroneous policies and laws, as well as the ignorance and prejudice promoted by them.【99】 Serious human rights violations continued not only against the patients themselves, but also against family members.
Japanese society has various other forms of discrimination. There is discrimination against foreigners, Ainu, bereaved families of the self-deceased, atomic bomb survivors, Minamata disease patients and their families, sexual minorities, HIV-positive people, etc., as well as discrimination based on appearance. Discrimination against women and disabled people have still not disappeared. People from Okinawa who already are unfairly burdened by the presence of huge military bases and those of Fukushima who were greatly affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident also say they feel prejudice on the part of people from other areas.
Hate crimes, hate speech
96. Hate Crime, which refers to crime motivated by discrimination and prejudice, together with Hate Speech (the expression of discrimination and incitement), are phrases that began to be used in the United States in the 1980s. Hate speech is an act of insulting a minority group or individual due to attributes such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion, and inciting discrimination, hatred, exclusion or violence against them. It has become a serious problem in Japan since about 2013, and Korean residents, Buraku, Okinawans, Ainu and others are subject to attack. It is said that hate speech is not merely a matter of abusive words, but can gradually escalate to genocidal mass murder.【100】 When because of discriminatory attitudes, one does not think of others as persons it leads to a failure to realize that killing them is, in fact, the murder of human beings.
In December 2009, the First Korean Elementary School in Kyoto was attacked.【101】 Following that, hate speech incidents were repeated in areas of Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, Kawasaki and other places where Koreans gather or live. The perpetrators themselves publicized their discriminatory acts in a video on the Internet, thereby attracting wide public attention both in Japan and abroad. The Internet has become a big concern where the dissemination of hate speech is concerned. Discriminatory attitudes that until recently were kept quiet have found expression on the Internet and now have a place in the real world.
In response, protests against hate speech have also started to be held in various places. As hate speech encourages unfair discrimination, the government is also beginning to take measures. On May 24, 2016, a law against hate speech, the Act on Promotion of Efforts towards Elimination of Unfair Discriminatory Behavior Against Those from Outside Japan, was enacted. Having such a law in a visible form yielded results, and several demonstrations that seemed to be for the purpose of hate speech were canceled immediately after its passage. However, fearing the possibility of violating freedom of expression, there are no prohibitions or penalties called for in the law, and so there are questions about how effective it will be in the long term.
The message of Scripture
97. “Let us make humankind in our image” (Genesis 1: 26). The Bible teaches that each of us is created as an irreplaceable being loved by God. “Man’s creation by God “in his own image” (Gen. 1, 27) confers upon every human person an eminent dignity; it also postulates the fundamental equality of all human beings. …. Hence every form of discrimination based on race, whether occasional or systematically practiced, and whether it is aimed at individuals or whole racial groups, is absolutely unacceptable.”【102】
Speaking on their behalf, God commands concern for those who are in a disadvantaged position with no one to protect them, such as widows, orphans and aliens. (See Exodus 22:21-23). If you look back on the kindness that you have received from God, you should not be indifferent to those who are abused. “You shall not oppress a resident alien, you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).
Jesus called God our father and thus showed that all people are sisters and brothers. He deeply sympathized with those who were discriminated against and outcast, and specially accepted them as brothers and sisters. He reached out and touched a person with a severe skin disease and had a meal with a someone who had a reputation as a sinner. In his parable, he made a Samaritan who was subject to hostility appear as a model of love of neighbor. And he declared that whatever one does for a brother or sister in need is done for Jesus himself (See Matthew 25:40).
Christianity worked in ancient society to overcome discrimination between Jews and Gentiles, free and slaves, men and women. Even so, we cannot deny the reality of discrimination in the Church’s long history, especially discrimination against those who do not believe as we do. While repenting that, we still must always ask ourselves if we might be standing on the side of discrimination.
To overcome discrimination, it is necessary for us to listen to the voices of people who experience discrimination so that we might recognize it, be aware of the structures of discrimination and constantly reflect on whether our sensitivity is distorted by ignorance or habit. Recalling that God loves all people equally, we must oppose indifference toward human rights and efforts to end discrimination.
We desire to imitate Christ, standing on the side of people who experience discrimination, struggling against all forms of discrimination, and living in the joy of the Gospel message that all people are brothers and sisters.
3-5. WAR AND VIOLENCE
War and the Church
98. “War is the work of man. War is destruction of human life. War is death.”【103】
The birth of Christ was greeted with the angels’ song, “Peace on earth” (Luke 2:14). Christ taught love and never appealed to force even as he was put to death on the cross. Therefore, the Catholic Church has repudiated violence and war, and emphasized peace. However, in the history of the Catholic Church, bloody incidents such as crusades, the execution of heretics, religious wars and so on have occurred repeatedly, and there are even theoretical justifications for war. How has the Church’s attitude about war and peace, violence and non-violence developed?
Posture of Jesus and the Early Church
99. In the Old Testament, both war and violence are presented as God’s will, but at the same time the appearance of peace at the end is drawn.
He shall judge between the nations,
And shall arbitrate for many peoples;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)
The model of Christ and his commands promoted nonviolence. Christ said, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26: 52), and he was arrested without resisting while also healing the man whose ear had been cut off.
The early Church also inherited the teachings of Christ as a repudiation of violence. Tertullian (second and third centuries) interpreted Christ’s words when he was arrested as being directed to all soldiers.【104】
Just war theory and its background
100. The Roman Empire’s ban on Christianity was lifted in 313 and Christianity eventually became the state religion. It was Ambrose and Augustine (fourth and fifth centuries) who first supported participation in war. Both of them were aware of the command of Christ, “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” and they did not encourage individual resistance to aggression.【105】 However, they approved of the use of force as a work of love that defends the defenseless weak. For Augustine, the practice of this love is especially imposed on government authorities, and government authorities were considered to exist for that purpose.
With this view as an impetus, what is known as the “just war theory” replaced nonviolence and nonresistance as the mainstream position of the Church. According to just war theory, war must be legitimate both in purpose and means, and recovery of peace must be the aim. Regarding the means, it is not allowed to use more force than necessary, such as massacre, or fire.【106】
Yet even in this period, the Old Testament idea of war as the will of God was not inherited by Christianity. However, in 1095, Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade in response to a request from the Eastern Roman Empire, thus opening the era of crusades. From this point on, crusades were directed against Muslim areas and heretics within the Christian region.【107】
After the religious wars following the Reformation, Europe entered the age of the Enlightenment, and the idea of the separation of Church and state became widespread. The Church and the state do not violate each other’s basic responsibilities, and so the Church is no longer involved in waging war. However, alongside the formation of the nation state, ideas like nationalism, ethnocentrism and ultranationalism have emerged, and the Catholic Church in many countries has been affected by these ideas. Particularly in the two World Wars that occurred in the first half of the 20th century, Churches in every country supported their nation’s war effort and cooperated in raising the morale of citizens and soldiers.
Actions of the modern popes
101. John XXIII, elected pope during the Cold War,【108】 explored solutions to the threat of the Cold War and nuclear war and worked hard to avoid this danger when the Cuban missile crisis broke out.【109】
Subsequent popes also continued to call for peace. Well-known examples are Paul VI’s speech at the United Nations (1965), John Paul II’s Hiroshima Peace Appeal (1981) and his efforts to stop the Iraq attack (2003).
Rejection of deterrence
102. In the background of the Cuban crisis was an idea that having deterrence is the most effective way to maintain peace. On the other hand, John XXXI states in his encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth): “There is a common belief that under modern conditions peace cannot be assured except on the basis of an equal balance of armaments and that this factor is the probable cause of this stockpiling of armaments. Thus, if one country increases its military strength, others are immediately roused by a competitive spirit to augment their own supply of armaments. And if one country is equipped with atomic weapons, others consider themselves justified in producing such weapons themselves, equal in destructive force.”【110】
Likewise, the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, states: “Whatever be the facts about this method of deterrence, men should be convinced that the arms race in which an already considerable number of countries are engaged is not a safe way to preserve a steady peace, nor is the so-called balance resulting from this race a sure and authentic peace. Rather than being eliminated thereby, the causes of war are in danger of being gradually aggravated. While extravagant sums are being spent for the furnishing of ever new weapons, an adequate remedy cannot be provided for the multiple miseries afflicting the whole modern world. Disagreements between nations are not really and radically healed; on the contrary, they spread the infection to other parts of the earth. New approaches based on reformed attitudes must be taken to remove this trap and to emancipate the world from its crushing anxiety through the restoration of genuine peace.”【111】
When the idea of deterrence leads to military buildup, it is obvious that a country with the economic power needed for it will have an advantage and will win in the end. “Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars,”【112】 but it is deterrence that creates military buildups. So long as that is the case, we cannot solve these problems prevailing in the world.
The foundation of peace
103. The Catholic Church imposes stringent conditions on legitimate defense by military force. However, rather than limiting damage, contemporary war has been transformed into an exercise of huge power that causes serious harm without distinguishing between soldiers and noncombatants. Indiscriminate killing by such means as air raids against population centers, chemical weapons and missiles is a characteristic of contemporary war. When the latest weapons, especially unmanned weapons, are remotely controlled by advanced technology, their operators can kill opponents without considering them as human beings. There is no longer such a thing as “just war.” And of course, war in the name of God is inconceivable. When war looms, it is much more important to avoid the danger than to judge whether it is legitimate or not.
Pope John XXIII said, “true and lasting peace among nations cannot consist in the possession of an equal supply of armaments but only in mutual trust.”【113】 That is not an unrealistic trust that closes its eyes to the possibility of human evil. Rather. it is a call to create conditions where trust is possible. The pope adds, “There is general agreement—or at least there should be—that relations between States, as between individuals, must be regulated not by armed force, but in accordance with the principles of right reason: the principles, that is, of truth, justice and vigorous and sincere co-operation.”【114】 “Truth” denies all prejudice and discrimination, and recognizes human equality. “Justice” means to respect the rights of each state, ethnic group, and individual and to work to establish a fair world. “Vigorous and sincere cooperation” means active exchange, cooperation, promotion of mutual aid and freedom from undue pressure or interference.
104. “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17) ― this is God’s command.
It is necessary in this age for us to recall what Christ taught us in his words and deeds, and to remember the attitude of nonviolence that the early Church understood to be Christ’s will.
Pacifism and non-violence have more grounds than an unrealistic theory of human goodness. They are based upon the realization that violence does not produce desirable results. Violence harms others to force certain results. It inevitably sows seeds of resentment and division. You cannot recover lives that were robbed by weapons, you cannot restore broken families or heal wounded hearts. Violence is inherently evil and must be avoided. “With war, you always lose. The only way to win a war is to not make it!”【115】
Japan today has a Constitution born from the experience of being both the perpetrator and the victim of war. It is a treasure that our predecessors who experienced the inhumanity of war in the 20th century left us. We Catholic bishops of Japan wholeheartedly endorse the pacifism of the Constitution, and especially the spirit of its Article 9, as a legacy of everyone who was a victim of that war.
Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in America, the world has been unable to escape from the chains of war, terrorism and violence. Caught in this chain of violence, too much life has been wounded, been lost. And it is clear that injured hearts continue to ache and pass on that pain for generations. We cannot close our ears to the cries of the victims of war, especially the innocent children. We continue to appeal for peace not as a political claim, but as a matter of human life.【116】
A message for everyone
105. We offer our sincere thanks to you who have read this message.
Since the opening of the 21st century, the messages of the Japanese Bishops have often been addressed not just to Catholics, but to all people. That is because our interest has been directed not only to the content of faith, but also to problems related to human life and dignity in general. We began to focus not only on how to go to heaven, but also on how to build the world that God desires. In other words, while admitting our human limitations, we have tried to look realistically at the situation in which people live, and have attempted to offer a perspective from which to overcome problems in order to live better lives. The truth is that it is only from the message of the Bible and the way of life of Jesus Christ that we can ever discover the true shape of life.
106. As we were preparing this new edition, Pope Francis called upon the Catholic Church spread throughout the world to mark a special holy year of mercy. He invited the world to look with God-like love upon those who suffer and to end further harm to their dignity and lives.
How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! How many are the wounds borne by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned out by the indifference of the rich! … Let us not fall into humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine that prevents us from discovering what is new! Let us ward off destructive cynicism! Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity.【117】
Furthermore, the Pope has pointed out that each one’s life is not complete in itself, but is connected to every other life. He reminds us that the Bible tells us “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.”【118】
Journeying towards the truth
107. Of course, the Church does not have ideas or answers to solve all problems. The Church constantly returns to Christ, and holding to the sense and teachings of the faith, joins people in each age as they suffer, ponder and discuss human issues. We are imperfect, and so this message is imperfect. Nevertheless, imperfect though we be, we hope to continue walking towards the truth that God shows through the Bible, and even in our imperfection we will strive to convey to all the loving gaze of God we have felt. As we wrote in “Some Final Reflections” in the earlier version, more than anything else, we want to assure you that God’s gaze towards humanity is the gaze of mercy.
We Japanese have inherited a rich spirituality from our ancestors. Treasuring those ancestors and our families, we live in gratitude for human hearts that care for one another; for the awe that the overwhelming power of nature inspires; for the beauty of simplicity; for the loveliness of plants and animals, but also of all things, even furniture and tools. We believe that others as well as Japanese who share that tradition can understand and share those feelings. We believe also that you can share and understand our conviction that God, the creator of heaven and earth, is the creator of all life, and that therefore life is sacred and inviolable.
In giving priority to economic efficiency and social position, our society is losing sight of human connections and mutual support. We are convinced that something is wrong, that there is something more important. We hope that this message will serve those who share that unease as a clue about how to think of life.
May the blessing of almighty God, Creator of life, be poured out abundantly on all.