Consultations to Unification Church victim group jump after Abe death

A group helping victims of the Unification Church said Thursday that consultations it received in July jumped 12 times more than the previous month, following the killing of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
A majority of the 94 consultations came from families of believers asking how their kin could leave the church, according to the group, while other cases concerned financial issues, with one saying a family member had contributed 500 million yen ($3.73 million) or more to the church.
Surging consultations were also reported by the National Network of Lawyers against Spiritual Sales, which was established in 1987 to help victims of so-called spiritual sales, in which people were talked into buying jars and other items for exorbitant prices.
The church, founded by a staunch anti-communist, is widely known for its mass weddings and has drawn scrutiny over such sales.
In 2021, the lawyers' group said it accepted 47 consultations in total. But since the fatal shooting of Abe on July 8, the group's chief secretary, Yasuo Kawai, said it is receiving 20 to 30 requests daily.
The church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, has come under renewed scrutiny after investigative sources have said the accused assailant Tetsuya Yamagami was motivated by the former prime minister's alleged links to the church.
Yamagami, 41, is known to have a grudge against the church after his mother became a believer and her huge donations bankrupted the family.
He had also claimed that Abe's grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped bring the church, founded in 1954 in South Korea, to Japan.
On the surge in consultations, the church told Kyodo News, "We cannot judge whether 'damages' have actually been incurred without examining the content of each instance that the lawyers' network and other groups refer to as 'damages consultation.'"
The victims' support group said that of the 94 consultations taken in July, 91 were made after Abe's shooting. The total excludes inquiries and reports of leaving the church.
In contrast, the group received just seven cases of consultation in April, four in May and eight in June.
Reflecting a downward trend over the years, the group received 56 consultations in fiscal 2021, plummeting from 273 in fiscal 2011.
The group said it was also consulted by some "second-generation members" of other religious groups that their parents are affiliated with.
Yoshihide Sakurai, a Hokkaido University graduate school professor of sociology of religion who also supports the group, said that the revelations around Yamagami and his family "appear to have caused a phenomenon in which families of believers realized they have been affected."

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