July 31, 2011 at 9:12 am #37662
note: I’m not surprised to see this finally surfacing. Any religious order that preaches celibacy is going to have it, not just Catholics. But what is equally disturbing is the “slippery mind” trip these Buddhist monks and their temples use to avoid taking responsibility. Apparently their spiritual freedom from attachment and notions of non-self has become institutionalized as an excuse for avoiding responsibility for their action.
BUDDHIST MONKS WALK AWAY FROM SEX-ABUSE CASES
By Megan Twohey
July 24, 2011
The meeting took place at Wat Dhammaram, a cavernous Theravada Buddhist
temple on the southwest edge of Chicago. A tearful 12-year-old told
three monks how another monk had turned off the lights during a tutoring
session, lifted her shirt and kissed and fondled her breasts while
pressing against her, according to a lawsuit.
Shortly after that meeting, one of the monks sent a letter to the girl’s
family, saying the temple’s monastic community had resolved the matter,
the lawsuit says.
The “wrong doer had accepted what he had done,” wrote P. Boonshoo
Sriburin, and within days would “leave the temple permanently” by flying
back to Thailand.
“We have done our best to restore the order,” the letter said.
But 11 years later, the monk, Camnong Boa-Ubol, serves at a temple in
California, where he says he interacts with children even as he faces a
second claim, supported by DNA, that he impregnated a girl in the
Sriburin acknowledges that restoring order did not involve stopping
Boa-Ubol from making the move to California. And it did not involve
issuing a warning to the temple there. Wat Dhammaram didn’t even tell
its own board of directors what happened with the monk, he said.
“We have no authority to do anything. He has his own choice to live
anywhere,” Sriburin said.
A Tribune review of sexual abuse cases involving several Theravada
Buddhist temples found minimal accountability and lax oversight of monks
accused of preying on vulnerable targets.
Because they answer to no outside ecclesiastical authority, the temples
respond to allegations as they see fit. And because the monks are viewed
as free agents, temples claim to have no way of controlling what they do
next. Those found guilty of wrongdoing can pack a bag and move to
another temple — much to the dismay of victims, law enforcement and
“You’d think they’d want to make sure these guys are not out there
trying to get into other temples,” said Rishi Agrawal, the attorney for
a victim of a west suburban monk convicted of battery for sexual contact
last fall. “What is the institutional approach here? It seems to be
ignorance and inaction.”
Paul Numrich, an expert on Theravada temples in the United States, said
that like clergy abuse in other religious organizations, sex offenses
are especially egregious because monks are supposed to live up to a
higher spiritual calling. The monks take a vow of celibacy.
But he cautioned against any sweeping generalizations.
“I’m sure most of the monks are living up to their calling,” said
Numrich, a professor at the Theological Consortium of Greater Columbus,
‘A free land’
Theravada temples surfaced in the U.S. in the 1970s to serve immigrants
from Southeast Asia. They have grown by the hundreds, serving as homes
to religious, cultural and educational activities, such as Sunday school.
Theravada monks who come here from Thailand report only to their
temple’s head monk and board of directors, said Phramaha Thanat
Inthisan, secretary-general of the Council of Thai Bhikkhus in the U.S.
The council offers advice and other support to the Thai monks based in
the U.S., he said, but doesn’t keep track of everyone’s name and has no
authority over the monks. Neither do the religious leaders in Thailand.
Theravada monks who travel here from other countries, often on temporary
religious visas, experience a similar lack of oversight, experts say.
“In America, it’s a free land,” said Bunsim Chuon, who assists the
president of the Community of Khmer Buddhist Monks Center, a national
association of Cambodian Theravada temples in the U.S.
Consider the case of Chaliaw Chetawan, who was convicted of battery
after a 2010 attack at Wat Buddhadhamma, a temple outside west suburban
A 30-year-old man told authorities that Chetawan, a Thai monk, held him
against his will in the temple’s bathroom, groped him and tried to force
“It was very forceful,” the man testified in court. “It was very
In a civil suit, the victim alleges that the temple ignored earlier
instances of sexual misconduct. The claim is echoed by another man who
alleges the temple’s leaders laughed when he reported being groped in 2009.
Chetawan is not here to face the lawsuit. In fact, it’s unclear where he is.
Just as Chetawan was to begin a year of probation, a DuPage County judge
agreed to release him from his court-ordered supervision after his
attorney said the monk would be sent back to Thailand and stripped of
his title for breaking the vow of celibacy.
But when a Tribune reporter inquired, two monks at the suburban temple
could not confirm Chetawan was in Thailand or deny rumors that he had
remained in the U.S. The monks said he was no longer of concern to the
“I don’t know where he is,” said Worasak Worathammo, a head monk.
He is not the only Theravada Buddhist monk whose whereabouts are unknown
after getting in trouble with the law. A monk charged with sexual
assault of a child in Harris County, Texas, also is missing.
The charges came in January after a 16-year-old girl confided in her
high school counselor that the monk had been having sex with her for
months, according to the complaint. Sgt. William Lilly, of the Harris
County sheriff’s office, said he visited the temple in search of the
monk after the teen’s outcry and “just got the sense they weren’t going
Days later, the monk’s attorney announced his client had fled and was
believed to be in Cambodia.
Where is the monk now? The temple’s president could not say.
“That’s the thing with these Theravada Buddhist temples,” said Richard
Flowers, an attorney who represented two sisters attacked by a monk in
Pomona, Calif., in the 1990s. “No one claims responsibility.
Theoretically no one is in charge.”
The monk in California landed in prison after his convictions for sexual
assault of the sisters and sexual assault of a child, court records
show. The sisters also had success with a civil suit. It described the
monk as “a serial rapist who seductively wrapped himself in the robes of
religious office” and alleged that other temple officials played a “role
in the cover-up and the attempted flight from justice.”
The court found multiple parties guilty of negligence, including the
operator of a California temple where the assaults of the sisters took
place, and a monk at another Theravada temple where the sisters were
But identifying higher-level targets was difficult, Flowers said.
“Our objective was to put liability on a responsible party,” he said. “I
think they’ve figured out that under Western law they can be held liable
and that they adhere to a code of silence. I don’t believe for a second
that no one else is in charge.”
What’s apparent is those in charge don’t always agree on the definition
The temple outside Willowbrook said Chetawan would be stripped of his
monk title for breaking the celibacy vow after he was convicted of battery.
But at Wat Dhammaram, the temple on the edge of Chicago, the monks did
not see Boa-Ubol’s alleged abuse of the 12-year-old as cause to strip
him of his title because there was no sexual intercourse, said Sriburin,
the monk who penned the letter to the girl’s family.
“As long as we don’t know any sexual intercourse, we have no reason to
charge anybody on that ground,” Sriburin said. “ We were informed that
he just touched body.”
The temple took the less severe step of expelling Boa-Ubol from Wat
Dhammaram and ordering him back to Thailand, Sriburin said. When
Boa-Ubol returned to Wat Dhammaram months later to gather his belongings
on his way to a temple in Long Beach, Calif., there was nothing the
monks could do to stop him, Sriburin said.
Boa-Ubol, who has not been charged with a crime, told a Tribune reporter
he secured the position at the Long Beach temple with the help of a
friend who lives there.
A DNA test
Speaking by phone from the California temple, he responded to the
allegations involving the 12-year-old and another woman who alleges
Boa-Ubol sexually assaulted her at Wat Dhammaram in the late 1990s.
The woman is suing Boa-Ubol, Sriburin and the temple, alleging
negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and gender
violence, and has included the alleged sex abuse of the other girl in
She alleges Boa-Ubol began assaulting her in the temple and a trailer
behind it when she was 14 and continued to do so for nearly a year until
she became pregnant.
The monk threatened to kill her father if she told anyone about the sex
and provided her with money to keep quiet, according to the lawsuit. She
alleged that other monks assaulted teenage girls and witnessed some of
the attacks on her.
When she later told a woman at the temple that Boa-Ubol was the father
of her daughter, the woman allegedly instructed her to relinquish the
child to Wat Dhammaram — a response that caused her to flee the site,
according to records.
By that time, Boa-Ubol was in California. It wasn’t until two years ago
that she decided to confront the temple again — this time with an attorney.
She and her daughter, a lanky 11-year-old who suffers from health
problems, have bounced around the Chicago area, trying to make ends
meet. At one point, she said, they lived in a van.
“It’s been really hard,” said the woman, who dropped out of high school
when she became pregnant. She doesn’t want to make a criminal complaint
for fear that her daughter will be harassed if their names become
public, she said, but they can act as Jane Does in the civil case.
At the insistence of the temple’s attorney, she and her daughter
provided DNA samples last year that were compared with a DNA sample
collected from Boa-Ubol. A test performed by DNA Diagnostics Center
determined the probability that Boa-Ubol fathered the child was
99.9999997 percent, according to a copy of the results.
In the interview, Boa-Ubol acknowledged he provided a DNA sample but
denied having sex with the then-teen, saying he only gave her money and
candy when she asked him for help.
“Oh, how wonderful,” he said when informed by the Tribune about the DNA
test results. “I don’t believe it.”
And the case of the then-12-year-old who told the monks Boa-Ubol kissed
and fondled her? He said he had “contact with her by accident.”
In their response to the lawsuit, Wat Dhammaram and Sriburin
acknowledged that the woman “probably became pregnant as a result of an
act of sexual intercourse with defendant Boa-Ubol” and that the DNA
testing “was reported as showing that defendant Boa-Ubol was probably
But they deny the woman’s other allegations and claim the case of the
12-year-old is irrelevant.
Sriburin told the Tribune that the monks did not inform the temple’s
board about why Boa-Ubol was leaving because the board “leaves monastic
issues to the monks.”
He said informing other members of the temple about the alleged abuse of
the 12-year-old would have been a mistake.
“If they know that, it would disturb,” Sriburin said. “It’s not useful
to their mind.”
The accusers from Wat Dhammaram expressed outrage that Boa-Ubol has
continued to function as a monk at another temple.
Boa-Ubol said he enjoys helping care for the temple and providing
instruction to children and other members. Asked whether there had been
any problems at the California temple, he said a female member had
falsely accused him of wrongdoing, but the head monk did not take action.
As he sees it, it is his right to be there.
“I have my independence,” he said.
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