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Can a child abuser live in ISKCON?

Thursday, 03 August 2006 / Published in Ongoing debates / 3,453 views

My name is Bhagavat Das. I am twice initiated by Srila Prabhupada and I have been around since 1970. My wife Radha and I were licensed foster parents for 9 years. We took care of close to 70 children in our home during that time, many of them physically and sexually abused. My experience with these children as protector, counselor, and guide has put me in a position of understanding to some extent the plight of the Gurukulis. I deeply sympathize with their dissatisfaction with the way ISKCON has handled their situation. If the leaders of ISKCON would follow the first example Srila Prabhupada set for them in dealing with child molesters they would, at the very least, make an important statement to the children that they did not tolerate child abuse.

I was in Allahabad in January 1977 when Srila Prabhupada was at the Kumbha Mela. During that time one of the first known child molesters was caught in Vrndavana and brought to Allahabad to be judged by Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada curled his lips in disgust and shook his head in great disbelief as he was told how this disciple of his sexually molested practically every child in the Gurukula. Srila Prabhupada was so disgusted that he told the GBC and others who were in the room that this boy, on his order should never for any reason be allowed in any of our temples ever again. When questioned about the severity of the sentence Srila Prabhupada said on occasion the boy could come to a temple for the Sunday feast and eat prasadam. Unfortunately, after Srila Prabhupada left this child molester found his way back into ISKCON’S temples. I would always complain whenever I saw him somewhere but usually to no avail. “He is doing service prabhu” is what I was told as the authorities disregarded the words of Srila Prabhupada. I finally told some grown up Gurukulis the story in Alachua and the next time he came around he was warned to leave ISKCON and never return or else. I heard recently he is in ISKCON temples in India, some things never change.

You will notice that Srila Prabhupada acting as head of the institution of ISKCON gave an order to protect the members of the institution. Acting in his capacity as the guru for the disciple in question he made a slight revision in order to demonstrate the principle of Lord Nityananda’s mercy that no one is beyond redemption, even this child molester. However that mercy is between the guru and the disciple and is in one sense separate from the relationship that Srila Prabhupada has with ISKCON as the head of the institution where he must enforce restrictions for the benefit and protection of the members of the institution.

Based on Srila Prabhupada’s personal handling of the situation I feel that if the leaders of ISKCON are serious about protecting its members in the same manner that Srila Prabhupada did, than the leaders of ISKCON have no other recourse than to institute the following policy: If a person is caught as a child molester in or out of an ISKCON temple; 1) that person should be reported to the proper authorities; 2) that person should never for any reason be allowed in any ISKCON temple ever again except on occasion for a Sunday feast. At that time he may take darshan and prasadam only, no lecture no kirtan or any leadership activity whatsoever. That was Srila Prabhupada’s instruction and it should be followed without change or hesitation. If the person happens to be a pot washer or an ex-guru the punishment should be the same. Since the child who has been molested will feel the same scars no matter what the position of the perpetrator is or was.

Now if the perpetrator in question wants to be a sannyasi or guru independent of ISKCON he can certainly do so and pursue following the instructions of his guru and try to obtain his guru’s mercy by opening his own temples or preaching centers and writing and distributing books. The guru disciple relationship is not terminated by the faults of the disciple. The guru is always ready to give his mercy to someone who is trying to rectify his behavior because no one is beyond redemption. However, he cannot do so within ISKCON the institution because Srila Prabhupada forbade it in order to protect ISKCON’S members.
I hope this teaching of Srila Prabhupada has shed some light on the proper way to handle some of the apparent controversial situations that have arisen lately.

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