Bishops apologize for Japanese-Canadian priest’s abuse

Mary Kitigawa (left) accepted the apology document from Bishop Greg Kerr-Wilson (right) and Bishop Melissa Skelton. Photo: Randy Murray
Mary Kitigawa (left) accepted the apology document from Bishop Greg Kerr-Wilson (right) and Bishop Melissa Skelton. Photo: Randy Murray
Published June 17, 2015

For more than 50 years, the late Goichi Gordon Nakayama served as an Anglican priest in the dioceses of Calgary and New Westminster. But the outwardly affable Japanese-born canon was an abusive priest, who preyed sexually on young boys in his spiritual care.

On June 15 in Vancouver, survivors of Nakayama’s misconduct received a formal apology from the two dioceses.

In 1994, Nakayama, father of the poet and novelist Joy Kogawa, admitted his history of abuse, and shortly before his death in 1995 he signed a written confession of his misconduct to Archbishop Barry Curtis, diocesan bishop of Calgary and metropolitan (senior bishop) of Rupert’s Land. “I made mistake. My moral life with my sexual bad behaviour. I sincerely sorry what I did to so many people,” he wrote. Charged with immorality by the archbishop, he never again exercised ministry. It is not known how many minors were molested, and no known complaints were reported during Nakayama’s ministry.

Kogawa’s 1995 novel The Rain Ascends chronicles a woman’s painful struggle to come to terms with the moral turpitude of her priest-father.

In the context of today’s zero tolerance it may be hard to understand, but the climate of silence around sexual abuse in Nakayama’s day allowed the canon to continue for decades on his destructive path, then quietly resign from the priesthood. The abuse was not made public until this year, after members of the Japanese-Canadian community had begun to come forward.

It has taken 20 years for the elderly survivors of that abuse and their families to receive formal apologies from the diocese of Calgary’s Bishop Gregory Kerr-Wilson and the diocese of New Westminster’s Bishop Melissa Skelton. On June 15, about 60 stakeholders, including representatives from the diocese and the Japanese Canadian Working Group (JCWG)-formed to address the abuse issue-gathered at the Vancouver Japanese Language School for the bishops’ formal apology.

Lorene Oikawa, the June 15 event’s MC and a JCWG organizer, tells the Anglican Journal: “The Japanese Canadian Working Group came together when members of the community started asking questions. We began to look for answers and how to support survivors and their families.”

In a spirit of contrition and reconciliation, the two bishops took the stand to read out the 12 points of the apology, tracing the history and circumstances of Nakayama’s ministry, confession, charging and resignation, and outlining the church’s current strong position on sexual misconduct.

“We deeply regret that Mr. Nakayama while a priest committed these acts of immoral sexual behaviour,” the apology stated. “…We deeply regret this Apology was not delivered to the Japanese Canadian Community at the time of Mr. Nakayama’s confession, the charge of immorality, and his subsequent resignation from the exercise of priestly ministry.”

Expressing support for the survivors and their families, the bishops added their hope that the apology would encourage healing and wellness for all those affected by Nakayama’s actions. They committed to participation in a healing and reconciliation process. “And we assure you that the Anglican Church takes these matters seriously, and takes steps to prevent this type of behaviour,” the apology concluded.

The church’s current no-tolerance policy requires all in the church to immediately report any knowledge or suspicion of sexual abuse of minors to appropriate authorities.

“I am grateful to have had this experience, offering the Apology with Bishop Greg Kerr-Wilson and knowing that the words were heard,” Bishop Skelton tells the Anglican Journal. “This is only a first step, and now the journey of healing begins.”

Mary Kitagawa, 80, whose uncles were among Nakayama’s victims, received the signed apology. While accepting the document as a good start, she expressed uncertainty about how survivors would interpret its words as well as hope that the church’s acknowledgment would bring comfort to the elderly survivors still reliving the experiences. They suffered in silence, she said, “…isolated…they were unable to share their experiences with their parents, they were and are very angry, filled with pain and frustration.”

Kitigawa also asked why Archbishop Curtis did not report Nakayama to the authorities and why it took so long for the truth to emerge. Until recently, however, clergy and lay leaders of Japanese-Anglican churches had reportedly asked church officials not to make the abuse public. It is only in the past 18 months that clergy, lay leaders and the Japanese-Canadian community have asked the church to make public Nakayama’s misconduct and formally apologize. Church officials worked co-operatively with the JCWG on the timing and wording of the apology, which will be distributed to the national Japanese-Canadian community.

“I was struck by the suffering that has gone on for so long,” says Bishop Kerr-Wilson. “And by the little bit of hopefulness that the apology represents an open invitation so that some survivors will be able to come forward and perhaps find some peace.”

“We are very grateful to the church for working on this with us and accepting responsibility,” says Oikawa, noting that the JCWG will hold another meeting in July. “The apology event concluded June 15, but it is not the end. It is the beginning of a healing process.”

With files from Randy Murray, communications officer/Topic editor for the diocese of New Westminster


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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