Scrutiny Key for Aspiring Monks, Patriarch Says

The head of Cambodia’s dominant Buddhist sect yesterday ordered pagodas to thoroughly screen all laypeople before they enter the monkhood.

The directive, issued during a conference of Buddhist monks in Phnom Penh, was an apparent re­sponse to recent scandals involving monks, including last year’s ar­rest and conviction of a monk for se­cretly filming more than 600 women as they bathed in the nude.

At the annual conference, where hundreds of monks discussed ways to improve discipline, Non Nget, Supreme Patriarch of the Mo­hanikaya order, issued the directive that all pagodas screen laypeople, including their backgrounds and characters, before their ordination.

“Before ordaining any children, the chief pagoda monk and teacher must screen the identities and characteristics of any young people who wanted to enter the monkhood be­fore they were permitted to be ordained,” the directive reads.

Talking to about 400 monks, Non Nget also urged all monks, in order to maintain the respect of the public, to behave honorably and not to bicker.

“We are Buddhist monks and we must be dignified,” Non Nget said. “Please keep adhering to the virtues.”

Though he made no mention of crimes committed by monks, Non Nget also warned monks against using their positions to take ad­vantage of the people: “Please, do not use power because your life depends on [the offerings] of the laypeople,” he said.

Religions and Cults Minister Min Khin welcomed the directive.

“Children who are to be or­dained in the village must have clear backgrounds to prevent bad people from damaging Buddhism,” Mr Khin said.

The reputation of Buddhism in Cambodia reached a nadir in No­vember 2008, when young monks were arrested in three headline-making rape and murder cases, including the rape and robbery of a British tourist in Bat­tambang pro­vince and the slaying of two traveling salesmen in Kompong Cham who had their throats cut and their motorcycles stolen.

This led Prime Minister Hun Sen in December 2008 to decry the state of religious affairs in the country and called on monks to behave properly and stop drinking.

Chhoeng Bunchhea, the new abbot Wat Srah Chak in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district, where a former monk, Net Khai, was arrested for filming women na­ked, hailed the directive, saying that it would improve the image of Buddhism.

“Some individuals have committed something wrong in the society, such as gang members, and their parents ask them to be ordained,” he said. “And those people do not listen to and obey the pagoda’s chief monk, and they cause problems. To prevent future scandal, we must be very careful.”

Multiple scandals occurred in 2010 in connection with Buddhist monks, but none bigger than the arrest in July of Net Khai, who was charged with producing and distributing pornography after police discovered he had filmed more than 600 women and children over a two-year period. The resulting outcry led to the temporary suspension of about 70 monks, who were asked to leave to redeem the pagoda’s tarnished reputation.

In August, a monk in Kom­pong Chhnang province’s Rolea Ba’ier district was arrested for buying sex with a minor after authorities discovered he had im­pregnated a 17-year-old girl.

Chhoeng Bunchhea said that if any Buddhist monks committed any wrongdoing, blame should lie with the monk, not the pagoda as a whole.

“The scandal was caused by an ignorant individual, and it is not the fault of the pagoda,” he said.

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