The ties between the Unification Church and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are deep and dating back to ancient times, according to Lower House Speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda. Hosoda's comment made to representatives of various parties in the Diet on January 24 was the first time that an influential lawmaker close to Abe had touched on the extent of the relationship since the former leader was shot and killed in July last year.
Hosoda did not provide further details about the Abe-church relationship, which was cited by the suspected murderer as the reason for targeting Abe.
Hosoda also did not fully explain his relationship with the church, which is now called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
Under pressure from the opposition bloc, Hosoda was questioned about the church in a closed-door, one-hour gathering of representatives of six parties at the Lower House Steering Committee.
Opposition lawmakers who attended the meeting said Hosoda was asked about the time when Abe took over the LDP's largest faction, Seiwaken, and if he had anything to say to Abe about the church.
According to the opposition lawmakers, Prime Minister Abe had had deep relations with the church since ancient times, while I am new. Asked how he knew about the connection between Abe and the church, Hosoda said he did not hear about it from others.
He said that he realized it over the course of a long time.
He said that he became aware of the church's reputation only after the group made headlines after Abe's murder.
The suspected gunman said that his mother, a church follower, ruined their family financially by giving huge sums to the religious organization.
After the incident with Abe, I was stunned to learn about the church through various news reports, Hosoda said.
Hosoda has held key Cabinet and party positions. He was the Speaker of the Lower House from 2014 to 2021 when he led Seiwaken.
Abe, who left the faction when he took office as the prime minister, succeeded Hosoda as head of the faction.
Of all the LDP factions, the Abe faction is believed to have the closest ties with the church, which has been under government scrutiny over its aggressive donation-collection activities and other problems.
Yoshifumi Miyajima, a former legislator with the Abe faction, told The Asahi Shimbun that he received support from the church when he ran in the 2016 Upper House election.
Hosoda has denied that he was involved in gathering church followers votes for LDP candidates in national elections when he served as faction leader.
He said he has never received specific requests from the church, and that his relationship with the church is not one he feels guilty about.
Hosoda admitted to attending eight meetings of groups affiliated with the church and sending congratulatory messages to gatherings of such groups through statements released twice last year.
Despite repeated requests from the media and opposition lawmakers, he has not given a news conference to explain his actions.
He said that he said that there was a clear explanation. It would be inappropriate for me to speak about what happened in the past at a news conference in my official capacity as a Lower House speaker.