SATSUMASENDAI, Kagoshima -- A Shinto priest accused of indecent assault for massaging the breasts of a 15-year-old girl was found not guilty after a court here ruled that his act was a "religious activity."
"There is room to accept that his act was a religious activity, and reasonable doubt in saying he possessed sexual intent," Judge Atsushi Tomita said in handing down the ruling at the Sendai branch of the Kagoshima District Court on Wednesday.
Prosecutors had demanded that the 36-year-old priest, Ryoichi Sakamoto, be jailed for two years over his actions.
Sakamoto was arrested and charged with indecent assault after he touched the breasts and other body parts of the junior high school girl at a religious facility adjoining his home in October 2002 and December that year.
During the trial, Sakamoto admitted that he touched the body of the girl, but said it was "a religious activity in order to help her," and maintained that he was not guilty.
In giving the ruling, Tomita acknowledged that Sakamoto had touched the breasts of the girl, but said of his actions, "(In the sect to which the defendant belongs) there are some cases in which the skin is touched directly, and one cannot say that this did not constitute a religious activity."
Sakamoto has relieved at the ruling.
"I feel greatly relieved at the not-guilty ruling," he said. "I would have liked the investigators to have taken a bit more care."
Prosecutors said they would consider what response to take after examining the ruling. (Mainichi Shimbun, Japan, Feb. 17, 2005)