Photo/Illutration The Liberal Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

A cascade of revelations has shown how the Unification Church has built broad political connections in Japan on both national and local levels.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, whose members are most widely involved, has vowed to sever its ties with the religious group, now formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

But the party cannot unshackle itself from its ties to the group unless it clarifies all relevant facts and conducts serious soul-searching.

The Asahi Shimbun has conducted a survey of all Diet members, prefectural assembly members and governors about their relationship with the church or its affiliated organizations.

A total of 635 Diet members, or some 90 percent of all lawmakers, have responded to the survey. Of the 150 respondents who have admitted having connections with the church or its affiliates, 120 belong to the LDP. They account for 32 percent of all LDP lawmakers.

The 73 LDP lawmakers who did not respond to the survey include Yoshiyuki Inoue, an Upper House member who received support from the church for his campaign for the July 10 election.

Ryota Takeda, a Lower House member of the LDP, who gave a speech on behalf of LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai at a party to promote a Japan-South Korea undersea tunnel project linked to the church in 2017, did not reply either.

A report on the party’s own survey of its members’ ties with the church, expected to be published this week, should disclose all the facts about these connections.

While politicians of other parties also admitted having links with the church or its affiliated organizations, the LDP has built by far the deepest relationship with them.

LDP lawmakers account for 20 of the 22 Diet members who have received support from the church’s side for their election campaigns and also 17 of the 19 lawmakers who have received political donations from or sold their fund-raising party tickets to the group’s side.

Toshimitsu Motegi, the party’s secretary-general, has repeatedly denied that the party as an organization has had ties to the church. But he cannot deny the fact that many LDP lawmakers have maintained broad and deep relationships with the church.

Some of the party’s past and present heavyweights, including former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have also been found to have had close ties with the church.

The LDP cannot hope to dispel public suspicions if its planned review of the matter is simply a collection of reports from individual members.

The Asahi Shimbun survey has also cast light over the church’s connections with local politicians.

A total of 2,307, or about 90 percent of all prefectural assembly members, have responded to the survey.

Of the respondents, 290, or more than 10 percent, have said they have been somehow connected to the church or its affiliated organizations. Of the total, 239 belong to the LDP.

An LDP prefectural assembly member who has received electoral support from church-related officials has talked about the difficulty of cutting ties with the group once involved.

The LDP’s review only covers Diet members. But it will not lead to effective actions to break up with the church unless it also covers local assembly members.

The party leadership has a duty to carry out an active investigation to disclose the entire picture of its connections with the church on both national and local levels and present it to the public.

The party should also answer questions about whether the church’s creeds, which place importance on traditional family values and object to the promotion of gender equality, have affected its own policy agenda.

This clarification effort should also cover actions and proposals in local politics, such as the preparation of ordinances.

All prefectural governors have responded to the survey and seven have admitted having ties to the church or its affiliated organizations.

But only the governors of Toyama, Aichi and Tokushima prefectures have answered in the affirmative to the question of whether they will reconsider their ties with the group or its affiliates.

The Miyagi and Fukui governors replied “no,” and the Akita and Kagoshima governors did not respond to the question.

The chiefs of local governments should not provide support to the church’s activities. They should immediately cut their ties with the group.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 6