Feb 8, 2011

Pastoral letter on NCW in Niigata diocese

Following is the provisional translation of my pastoral letter on NCW in Niigata diocese issued on 1 February.  Original text is in Japanese which you may find in the official site of the diocese.

My dear brothers and sisters of Niigata Diocese,

Peace of the Lord be with you,

re: Neocatechumenal Way in Niigata diocese

Recently, several reports on the issue of Neocatechumenal Way (NCW) and Japanese Bishops have appeared on the National Catholic Weekly, Katorikku Shinbun. I was one of the participants of the reported meeting on 13 December last year in Vatican which had been summoned by Holy Father. In order to explain the situation and also to make an appeal to the faithful in Japan, Archbishop Ikenaga, the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan (CBCJ) has written an article on the National Catholic Weekly. In view of the situation, I would like to explain the position of our Diocese.

1: Background

NCW has been established in 1964 by a Spanish lay person, Mr. Francisco (Kiko) Gomez Arguello, and others as "one of the forms of diocesan implementation of Christian initiation and of ongoing education in faith" (quote from the Statute). They began their activities in Japan by 1970 in Hiroshima diocese and have spread to other dioceses particularly within Takamatsu diocese.

The Statute of NCW has been approved in 2008 by the Pontifical Council for the Laity and recently their Catechism received an official approval from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Therefore, NCW is a group officially recognized within the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately in Japan, setting up of the International Mission Seminary in Takamatsu resulted in division among faithful in parishes, even to the point that former Bishop of Takamatsu was brought to the civil court for the libel case. In 2003, Holy See appointed late Cardinal Kim of Seoul as the Special Delegate to inspect the situation of Takamatsu Diocese. Regarding to this chaotic situation, Archbishop Ikenaga wrote in his article that "there has been rampant confusion, conflict, division, and chaos." In 2004, Bishop Mizobe was transferred from Sendai to Takamatsu to solve problems and create unity in the diocese.

Japanese Bishops for past few years have recognized the situation of Takamatsu as the issue affecting entire Catholic community in Japan and spent quite substantial time to try to find the suitable way out and also made number of negotiation with the Holy See. One of results of the negotiation was transfer of the priest formation of the NCW in Japan from Takamatsu to Rome in 2008. Their seminary for Japan still remains in Rome.

2: Present issue

Japanese Bishops are not in the position of denying the NCW itself which have received an official recognition from the Holy See. Also we are fully aware of number of cases of acceptance of the NCW and their success stories in many dioceses outside Japan. If that is the case, however, we believe that the root cause of division and confusion for past 20 years after the establishment of the seminary in one Japanese diocese that involved laity, religious and priests should be clarified. It can not be said that the replication of success stories in other dioceses outside Japan could be automatically guaranteed also in Japan. In fact, we are also aware of stories of some negative experiences with NCW in several dioceses in other countries.

During the meeting summoned by Holy Father on 13 December last year, 4 bishops from Japan including the president of CBCJ, Archbishop Ikenaga and also myself, tried to explain our situation to Holy Father and several other Cardinals of the Curia. We emphasized our proposal as we had communicated with Mr. Kiko that the best way to find the solution to rectify the situation in Japan was to halt the activities of NCW in Japan for mean time in order to clarify the root cause of the problem and start dialogue between the leadership of the NCW and Japanese bishops after the reflection period. In response, Holy Father, after carefully listened to our points and also of the Curia Cardinals, decided to send his own delegate to Japan instead of halting the activities of NCW.

As of today, the delegate has not been appointed. However, once the delegate will be sent to Japan, he might be coming to Niigata diocese also. In that case, as Archbishop Ikenaga wrote in his article, I will try as much as possible to provide opportunities to everyone who have something to share with the delegate.

3: Position of Niigata Diocese

There are quite a number of faithfuls in Niigata diocese who live their faith in the NCW. First and most, I would like to point out with emphasis that we have a lot to learn from them who are serious in their faith practice.

By the way, there are 2 priests belonging to Takamatsu diocese working in Niigata with our diocesan priests. As for these 2 priests, they have been seconded to Niigata as the "fidei donum" priests under a contract between bishop of Takamatsu and Niigata and, I understand, they should have nothing to do with the NCW as long as they are assigned to parishes in Niigata diocese.

According to the section 2 of the article 1 of the statute of the NCW, "the Neocatechumenal Way is at the service of the bishop as one of the forms of diocesan implementation of Christian initiation and of ongoing education in faith." Then in the section 1 of the article 26 of the statute states as responsibility of a diocesan bishop that "to authorize the implementation of the Neocatechumenal Way in the diocese." Therefore it is my duty as a bishop of Niigata diocese to decide whether I would employ the NCW as the form "of Christian initiation and of ongoing education in faith" for my diocese, Niigata, or not.

As of this moment, I DO NOT employ the NCW as the form of Christian initiation and of ongoing education in faith in Niigata diocese. Also I DO NOT have any plan to employ it in near future for our diocese.

Already in my very first pastoral letter, "Varietate Unitas," I have stated my principle thought for the parish formation as follows. "I do not agree with the idea to employ ready-made methods or specific movements for the formation of parish communities in Niigata diocese."

To be realistic to the present situation of the diocese, it is a simple fact that our parish communities are quite tiny in number of parishioners. It is much more fitting to these tiny communities to be united in one direction and move together than dividing already small community to much more smaller groups. Also for the evangelization in this local situation as a small minority group, being a living witness of gospel values through our presence as united communities which are praying together and assisting each other would be the best way.

In the same reason, I DO NOT think that liturgies, especially for Sundays and Holy Weeks, celebrated in separation from the Parish communities appropriate for our diocese. Of course, under the permission of parish priests, it has been allowed to any groups to organize their liturgies in separation from the Parish communities only in special occasions, such as retreats or conferences.

As we consider the possibilities of evangelization and future of our parish communities, we can not avoid to face changes. What I would like to tell you concerning the present issue is that we have to re-think about ourselves, our way of forming parish communities. We have to think it again and again that how we should be changed to follow the reality of the modern world, how are we to proclaim the gospel and how are we to live the gospel value. Unless each one of us are vitalized by gospel value in respective ways, no methods nor movements could vitalize our parish communities.

Let us pray for the guidance of Holy Spirit over our diocese and the Catholic Church in Japan.

1 February, 2011

Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD
Bishop of Niigata

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