Sex Crimes Reveal Malaise in Buddhist Clergy

The rape of a 6-year-old girl by a monk last Thursday—the latest in a string of violent and sexual crimes by the Buddhist clergy—is indicative of a growing malaise and lack of moral fortitude among members of the country’s official religion, analysts said Monday.

“This crime is a reflection of greater issues among the Bud­dhist hierarchy and its clergy, and within our culture in general,” said Lao Mong Hay, an independent political and human rights analyst, adding that a lack of moral discipline has become a serious issue for monks.

Luon Leoun’s name has been added to the growing list of shamed monks, after he confessed to raping the 6-year-old girl at the Cheoung pagoda in Kulen district by luring her to his room and showing her a video on his smartphone.

Luon Leoun, 38, was defrocked, then charged by the Preah Vihear Provincial Court on Thursday and sent to the provincial prison for pretrial detention.

Phnom Penh’s chief monk, Kem Sorn, said Buddhist law that calls for a monk to be defrocked after he has engaged in any act of sexual activity or abuse is strictly applied. “As soon as there is any evidence that they have raped someone, they will immediately be defrocked,” he said.

Yet punitive measures by the Buddhist hierarchy do not appear to be solving the persistent problem among its clergy. Luon Leoun is in fact only the latest in a long line of debacles for Cambodia’s monkhood.

In 2010, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged a monk at the Sras Chak pagoda in Phnom Penh for producing pornography after he was found to have been secretly filming more than 100 women in a bathroom at his pa­goda since 2008. Other monks have been found guilty of rape and even murder and robbery inside pagodas in recent years.

“It is very troubling to hear about these cases—it has an alarming effect on the public’s perception of Buddhism, which they are taught prohibits monks from any sexual activity,” said Ros Chan­trabot, a member of the Royal Academy and adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Though Mr. Chantrabot said rape should not be singled out as a problem that only lies within the Buddhist clergy.

“Rape happens everywhere, not just in Cambodia, and not just among the Buddhist clergy,” he said, adding that the Catholic Church has also had to deal with a host of sex-abuse scandals.

But while recent high profile rape cases in India have prompted tens of thousands of people to join angry protests, Cambodians have remained largely silent, despite constant reports of rape crimes being committed against women and children around the country, including regular cases of rape and murder, which are reported almost monthly.

Mr. Chantrabot admitted that Cambodia had its own particular problem to deal with in terms of the crime of rape.

“Our people simply do not understand rape. Our society needs to promote the issue more,” he said, adding that the public could help by using social media to raise awareness about rape.

Yet according to Mr. Mong Hay, educating the Cambodian public about moral and ethical behavior is traditionally the responsibility of the Buddhist clergy. Today’s monks, however, have failed in spreading Buddhist morality or ethics, he said.

“If the monks were really followers of Buddha, they would have made greater efforts to help society and disseminate Buddhist teaching,” he said. “But monks now are more concerned with accruing material wealth than with discipline, learning or practicing moral teaching…and if rumors are true, with bribing their way up the hierarchy.”

In essence, Mr. Mong Hay said, many monks in Cambodia no longer have the inclination—not to mention moral authority—to positively change the public’s attitude toward rape.

“The monks are only interested in iPhones and iPads,” Mr. Mong Hay said, “while the growing emphasis among the hierarchy is on building temples, and building higher and higher walls around those temples.”

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