Why do we tolerate misguided gestures and criminal actions by religious leaders?


The Dalai Lama kissed a child on the lips, then asked him to “suck his tongue”. The scene happened at the end of February, but the wave of reactions arose only now, when the video recording went viral. In the video we see how a young Buddhist student approached the microphone at an event at the Dalai Lama’s temple in Dharamshala and asked the Dalai Lama, “Can I hug you?”

The Dalai Lama told the boy to climb onto the platform where he was standing, then motioned to his cheek, saying “here first”, after which the boy kissed him and gave him a hug. The Buddhist spiritual leader held the boy in his arms, adding, “I think so too,” and kissed him on the lips. “And suck my tongue,” added the Dalai Lama, sticking out his tongue, face to face with the student. The boy quickly stuck out his tongue and tried to move away as the Dalai Lama laughed and pulled him back for another hug as everyone present laughed.

A few days later, a statement from the Dalai Lama’s office was made public, with a stern apology, but also a justification for his behavior, which according to the statement was “innocent and playful.” Now, I invite you to an exercise of imagination: what would be our reaction if we witnessed such behavior on the part of some man towards a child, after which, caught in the act, he assured us that his actions had were “innocent and playful”. You feel confused, don’t you?

The excessive tolerance shown by mankind towards the inappropriate gestures of priests and religious leaders, regardless of the religion they represent, is inexplicable. From kissing children on the lips to outright criminal acts such as molestation, sexual abuse, rape – they often get away with a clean slate or, at best, only a little stained.

In 2019, an Associated Press investigation found that nearly 1,700 priests and other clergy the Roman Catholic Church believes are credibly accused of child sexual abuse are living without any oversight from religious authorities or law enforcement , decades after the first wave of church abuse scandals rocked the US. These priests, deacons, monks have become school teachers, nurses and are volunteers at non-profit organizations that aim to help children at risk. They have unhindered daily contact with children and there is no mechanism to monitor them, although according to the same investigation dozens of them have committed crimes including sexual assault and possession of child pornography since leaving the church.

A more recent case and closer to us is the one involving Archdeacon Daniel Farcaș, professor of Morality, New and Old Testament at the Orthodox Theological Seminary in Baia Mare, who, using his position of authority, manipulated his students, by intentionally erasing the boundaries between himself, a grown man, a teacher, and his underage students, becoming their intimate friend and fellow entertainer. Farcaș sent his 15-year-old students much too personal messages late at night, took them on trips, where he poured alcohol down their throats and took selfies lying on the bed, surrounded by his “harem”, as his students identified themselves jokingly. Daniel Farcaș was removed from the Seminary where he taught only after publication of the Recorder investigationalthough a year had passed since two students filed complaints with Bishop Iustin of Maramureș and Sătmarău, obtaining only minor sanctions.

These people (they are, after all, just people invested with power), must be taken down from the pedestal that they also raised with our will and goodwill. For centuries we have stood in front of the closed doors of religious cults, after which acts of abuse against our children are carried out, which, more often than not, remain unknown. Or they become known, but remain unpunished.

The willful disregard of worldly rules by a spiritual leader, the absolutely inappropriate behavior towards a child, the frivolous excuses, which want to dilute the seriousness of the gesture, create the ideal context to force on the global public agenda the discussions about the privileges enjoyed by an elitist group of men with various worldviews. Because that’s what religious leaders really are, if we get rid of the titles when we talk about them.

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