Unification Church's donation coercion in Japan is problem: ex-exec

The Unification Church acts "clearly against public morality" as it has imposed an unreasonable quota for donations on its churches across Japan, causing many followers to go bankrupt, a former senior official of the religious group has told Kyodo News.
In a rare interview given by a former executive member of the group under his real name, Masaue Sakurai, former deputy director of the group's family education department, said the Unification Church was supposed to promote world peace, but began to emphasize organizational expansion around the 1980s and its requests for donations grew stronger.
The group, founded in South Korea in 1954 by the late Sun Myung Moon, has been under renewed scrutiny in Japan following the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July by the son of a follower.
The Unification Church began stirring controversy in the 1980s with "spiritual sales," in which people were pressured into buying jars and other items for exorbitant prices by use of threats, including the citing of "ancestral karma." It also attracted notoriety for mass wedding ceremonies with some Japanese celebrities participating in one held in Seoul in the 1990s.
Sakurai, 48, said his father was a former president of the Unification Church in Japan, now known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, while his mother had been a believer since the late 1950s, even before the group was incorporated as a religious organization in the country.
He worked for roughly 20 years at the group's Japanese headquarters. Whenever he was asked for advice on family education, he was always confronted with the issue of donations, said Sakurai.
Some followers even donated savings that their children had earned from part-time jobs to put themselves through university.
Sakurai, who declined to be photographed, said he had long felt uncomfortable with the situation but could not speak out for fear of appearing to lack faith.
He also said because of the donation quotas imposed by the headquarters on regional churches, many families had fallen into debt or become bankrupt.
"Many people at the headquarters were aware that the donation issue was a problem," he said.
His remarks on the group's pressure on followers to make huge donations match what Tetsuya Yamagami, Abe's assailant, is said to have told investigators about how his mother's massive donations, reportedly amounting 100 million yen, had ruined his family. Yamagami, who fatally shot Abe, believed that the former prime minister had ties with the group.
Since the July 8 assassination, ties between politicians, especially those of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and the Unification Church, whose founder was a staunch anti-communist, have become the center of social attention.
Reacting to strong public unease over such ties, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday the LDP will require its lawmakers to sever ties with the Unification Church.
Sakurai said that even though he was an executive, he did not belong to the department handling donations and so did not have access to details, such as the percentage of the donation targets achieved by each church.
He also denied any knowledge of details of the Unification Church's involvement with politics or how the group's name change was approved in Japan in 2015.
Sakurai became involved in issues related to the followers' families and the education of second-generation followers at the headquarters in 1998. He was dismissed in 2017 when he objected to the group's policies.
Prior to giving the interview, he had supplied the press with a document titled "The current situation of the followers and the fundamental problems of the Family Federation." He agreed to be interviewed because "there are no signs of a change in the nature" of the group.
The Unification Church "must admit the existence of a problem and reform internally," Sakurai said, adding, "There are many people who want (the group) to change."
A spokesperson for the group told Kyodo News that it is "inappropriate for someone who has left the organization to talk about it."

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