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Japanese bishops greet Pope Francis during a visit to the Vatican Japanese bishops greet Pope Francis during a visit to the Vatican  (©Lindsey -

Japanese bishops apologize to those affected by leprosy

The Catholic Bishops of Japan issue an apology to people affected by Hansen’s disease. Their apology comes on the heels of a similar one by the Japanese Prime Minister.

By Linda Bordoni

“We, the bishops of the Catholic Church in Japan, apologize to the people who have recovered from Hansen’s disease, to their families, and to those who have already been called to heaven,” said the Catholic bishops of Japan in a statement.

What is Hansen’s Disease?

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s Disease, is now curable but many patients were isolated in sanatoriums under the government’s segregation policy between 1907 and 1996 and their family members suffered from the stigma of being relatives of leprosy patients.

The bishops acknowledge that they “did not oppose the isolation and destruction of patients, did not support patients’ rights to compensation and restoration, did not recognize that [their] failure added to their suffering, and did not stand with those whose rights needed protection.”

In their statement they explain that:  “In 1996, when the Leprosy Prevention Act was abolished, the government was held responsible for damages by a decision of the Kumamoto District Court, and compensation was given in 2001 to former patients. When the Study Council on Hansen’s disease in its 2005 final report summarized the actual conditions and causes of harm and the measures for preventing their recurrence, the bishops did not issue an apology to those who had recovered and their families”.

“Today, we express our remorse that it has taken until today to make that apology,” they said.

Segretation and stigmatization

The Japanese Bishops’ statement goes on to note that “in 1943, the drug Promin was developed that made Hansen’s disease an easily healed condition. In 1956, the Rome Declaration on patient protection and reintegration called for an end to discriminatory laws such as the Leprosy Prevention Act. Nevertheless, Japan’s national policy did not change until 2001 and patients were kept in isolation throughout their lives”.

“Words do not suffice,” the bishops said, “to express the deep remorse we feel for adding to the suffering of those patients and their families,” noting that “now that so many of those patients and their family members have been admitted to nursing care, their increasing age makes further delay unforgiveable”.

The bishops concluded their apology saying that as followers of Jesus Christ they promise never to repeat that sin, to cherish all people and to never again fail to respect human rights.

Government apology

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday offered an apology to family members of leprosy patients for their suffering, after the government decided not to appeal a court ruling ordering the state to pay compensation.  In it he acknowledged that they endured “extremely severe prejudice and discrimination in society.”

18 July 2019, 14:53