VATICAN CITY – Citing years of “trouble”, Japan’s Catholic bishops have asked the Neocatechumenal Way to cease activities in the country for the next five years.

Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki told Catholic News Agency on Dec 15 that the bishops’ proposal, made directly to the Way’s founder, Kiko Arguello, has so far not been accepted.

Archbishop Takami was reached by phone at his home in Nagasaki.

Four other Japanese bishops had taken part in a Dec 13 closed door meeting in Rome with Pope Benedict XVI.

The pope called the meeting to discuss the bishops’ proposal. Archbishop Takami indicated that the pope was not comfortable with the plan. Neither the Vatican nor officials of the Neocatechumenal Way have made any public comment on the meeting or the proposal.

The Neocatechumenal Way was founded in Spain in the 1960s and is dedicated to the ongoing religious formation of adult Catholics. It has been operating in Japan for more than 30 years. But in recent years, relations between Way leaders and the country’s bishops have hit rough waters.

Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada of Tokyo first spoke to the pope in December 2007. He described the Way’s presence in Japan’s small Catholic community as “a serious problem”.

The “powerful sect-like activity of Way members is divisive and confrontational”, and has caused “sharp, painful division and strife within the Church”, he said. Further talks between the bishops and the pope led to closing of the Way’s seminary in Takamatsu in 2009.

The seminarians were then sent to the Way’s Rome seminary, Redemptoris Mater.

In conjunction with the closure, the Vatican also appointed a vicar to cooperate with the bishops in determining the administration of the Way’s continued presence in Japan.

But Archbishop Takami said the problems are difficult to resolve. The Way, he said, “has made a lot of trouble in the Takamatsu diocese in many areas”.

Their priests’ divided obedience makes for great difficulties, he explained. “They say they want to be obedient to the bishop in whose diocese we work, but they don’t do it, not completely, anyway, not sufficiently or in the proper way.”

He said the proposal the bishops had made to Way co-founder, Kiko Arguello, was that The Way would cease operations for five years and use that time “to reflect on their activities in Japan”, he explained. “At the end, after the five years,” said Archbishop Takami, “we will be ready to discuss things with them.” – CNA/EWTN NEWS