Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is considering launching an investigation into the Unification Church, a religious group under increased public scrutiny for links with the ruling party and financial troubles with its followers, government sources said Saturday.

The change in Kishida's stance comes as he struggles with falling Cabinet support ratings stemming from his reluctance to address problems associated with the church, which remerged after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was killed more than three months ago.

File photo taken in September 2022 shows the name Family Federation for World Peace and Unification at a building housing the Unification Church in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

Kishida is set to announce the plan on Monday in a session of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, saying he would order the education and culture minister to look into the religious group if needed, according to the sources.

His government has previously been cautious about ordering such a probe due to fears of violating freedom of religion.

Should the probe be carried out and depending on its outcome, the sources said the government could issue a dissolution order under the religious corporations law to the group, founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon and often labeled by critics as a cult.

If this order is issued, the church will lose its status as a religious corporation and would not be entitled to tax benefits, but it can still operate as a religious entity.

Kishida's policy shift comes as a panel of experts at the Consumer Affairs Agency may announce a set of proposals regarding the church on Monday, including asking the government to exercise its power to investigate the organization.

The agency has received many complaints about the church purportedly demanding huge donations from its followers that push them to the point of financial ruin, as well as carrying out "spiritual sales," in which people are talked into buying jars and other items for outrageous prices.

A Kyodo News survey conducted earlier this month found the approval rating for Kishida's Cabinet has fallen to 35.0 percent, its lowest level since its launch about a year ago.

The church, which is now formally called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, has come under scrutiny after the assailant who fatally shot Abe in July told investigators he harbored a grudge against the group due to his mother's massive donations and believed that the late leader had ties to it.

The government started a telephone consultation service on Sept. 5 for people experiencing trouble with the Unification Church and received consultation requests from 1,317 people by Sept. 22. Of them, 70 percent were concerned about money troubles.

Recent revelations about the ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers' links to the questionable group have sparked concerns that it may have sought to exert political influence.

The results of the LDP's internal probe released in September showed 179 of its 379 lawmakers, excluding leaders of both chambers of parliament, said they had some dealings with the church, such as sending congratulatory messages to the organization or its affiliated groups.

More recently, lower house speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda, who headed the LDP's largest faction before assuming the current post and the intraparty group was taken over by Abe, has admitted he attended several meetings with the organization.

Among Kishida's Cabinet members, economic revitalization minister Daishiro Yamagiwa has especially come under fire for repeating fallacious explanations about his relationship with the religious group.

Under the law, a dissolution order can be issued to a religious corporation when it commits an act that is clearly found to harm public welfare substantially or when it commits an act that deviates considerably from the purpose of a religious body.

So far, only two religious groups have received a dissolution order from a court because of legal violations. One was the AUM Shinrikyo cult, which carried out the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

The other is the Myokakuji temple group, based in Wakayama Prefecture. Its priests defrauded people who sought help by telling them they were possessed by evil spirits and then charging them for exorcisms.

In Japan, the Unification Church began stirring controversy with spiritual sales in the 1980s and also attracted notoriety for mass wedding ceremonies, with some Japanese celebrities participating in one held in Seoul in 1992. But since then there had been few media reports about the church until the assassination of Abe.