Bush Addresses Group Tied to Rev. Moon
TOKYO (AP) _ Former President Bush addressed a gathering Thursday of a group tied to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, ignoring accusations he was lending his name to an unscrupulous cult.
As Bush urged the crowd to ``devote ourselves to finding ways to strengthen the family,″ Japanese mothers were standing outside passing out leaflets and describing how their families were split apart by the church.
``They are like manipulated puppets,″ Teruko Honma, leader of one opponents’ group, said of the young followers of Moon.
Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush spoke before 50,000 people at the Tokyo Dome stadium in an assembly of the Women’s Federation for World Peace, which is headed by Moon’s wife.
The former president did not mention the protests or the Unification Church in his half-hour speech. Bush’s topic was U.S.-Japan relations, but his most spirited remarks focused on how he had led the multinational force against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War.
Both Bushes were effusive in their praise for the women’s federation and its chairwoman, Motoko Sugiyama. Mrs. Bush said she was thrilled to be invited to Japan for the gathering and called Sugiyama ``my younger sister.″
Officials of the women’s federation insisted it was separate from the Unification Church but acknowledged that it follows Moon’s teachings.
The Bushes did not stay to hear the address by Moon’s wife, Hak Ja Han Moon, but it appeared that the controversy may have influenced her words.
The prepared text of her speech said her husband stands ``at the top of the world″ and that ``everything which Rev. Moon has said has been fulfilled.″ But both phrases were cut in the actual address.
The South Korea-based Unification Church, which claims between 2 million and 3 million followers, has aggressively sought members in Japan, and opponents believe that Japanese are a major source of funds.
A lawyers’ group that has sued the church successfully in a Japanese court says followers have duped thousands of people into buying statues, jewelry and other items at exorbitant prices. The buyers are told that the trinkets will help ancestors suffering in the spirit world, the lawyers say.
Former followers also say they felt pressure to make large donations to the church. In a typical case, one former follower who asked to remain anonymous told Associated Press Television that he donated $30,000 in two years and even borrowed money from a bank to give to the church.
A spokesman for the Bushes, Jim McGrath, said their speeches should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the Unification Church.