Vanity thought #1799. “It’s for the children”

Wikipedia gives it as “think of the children” but there’s no difference. It’s about emotional appeal which is used as a substitute for reason. Not that reasoning stands on a much more solid ground according to Sāṅkhya, but still.

A couple of months ago a debate started on Sampradaya Sun when someone brought up Bhakti Vikāsa Swami’s (BVKS) lecture where he spoke on Bhaktividyāpūrṇa Svāmī and child abuse. BVKS replied and, as expected, more questions followed until it all snowballed with half a dozen different people getting on his case as well. It’s gone quiet now, probably because SS editors did not want to publish submissions in defense of BVKS before he finished his presentation. At this point BVKS is not responding, probably because he thinks it’s unfair given how many others were allowed to attack him at the same time. Or maybe he thinks nothing good will come out of it, or maybe this issue drifted away from his mind already.

At one point I myself sat down and penned an article expressing my personal view, not really taking sides and joining the fight, though it’s clear what camp I should be enlisted in. Sun editor immediately replied saying that my submission could not be published and I was actually relieved because I’m pretty sure it would have kicked up a storm of angry responses. Two weeks have passed, I don’t think there will be any progress and that article is not going anywhere, though I would welcome the opportunity to edit it to a more presentable standard, make corrections etc.

Here’s the thing, though – I wasn’t trying to present the correct version of the child protection issue, I only shared my personal perception of it. This perception might be wrong but it’s the one that was created, so don’t blame the mirror. I diligently read the provided sources, I read all articles published about it at the time, I watched the documentary in question a year ago, and my article simply documented my conclusions.

I’ll just copy paste it here as it was, warts and all. I don’t want to rewrite it – it would be too much work for no particular reason. I’m somewhat ashamed of my dismissive attitude but that’s because I am not emotionally involved in this issue, and I only speak about this particular dimension of it in relation to one particular devotee.

Sometimes I feel like I’m writing this against my better judgement – with so many devotees pitching in what is the value of my personal opinion? I can’t claim to speak on behalf of silent majority either, and yet I don’t see my perspective as being totally out of wack and it’s the perspective that should, theoretically, count, too.

As a background – I’ve never met a child abuser or a victim of child abuse in ISKCON, or outside ISKCON, for that matter, but since it has become part of our history I take it on authority that it did happen even if I didn’t see it or hear about it at the time. It’s the stuff of long past and we should put it behind us, I thought.

About a decade ago I ran into an online debate with those who think ISKCON is a dangerous cult that should be outlawed and one of the accusations they threw around was that it’s a hotbed of child abuse and pedophilia. They didn’t cite any facts, however. I searched the internet myself and found only two cases, in one a wife reported her husband to the police because she found child pornography on his computer, and in another a devotee was arrested in a child brothel in Cambodia, though it was unknown if he was in that country on any ISKCON related business. And so I left this as a non-issue until last year when a new documentary was promoted on vaishnava news sites.

It sounded as if it uncovered countless new incidents and I diligently watched it through but the only case of current abuse I remember was that a female teacher pinched a stomach of a boy who couldn’t stand straight during temple ceremony. Not the best way to keep kids in line (though in a pinch would do – pardon the pun) but not serious enough to make an hour long documentary out of it either. And yet for the whole hour people were going on and on and on expressing their outrage and wringing their hands in agony and I thought they just liked themselves to be heard. Much of it was how everybody else is doing their service wrong and if you only asked the speakers in that video they’d put ISKCON straight right away. If I wanted to learn about actual contemporary child abuse then an hour wasted, that was my conclusion.

Then this debate got reignited again and this time it somehow focused on Bhakti Vidyapurna Swami (BVPS). This time we got links to Child Protection Office case files on him and I read them through, too. 2007 investigation lasted for half a year and found two incidents that “could possibly fall” into child abuse category – their words, not mine. One is that BVPS rubbed a chickpea paste on a forearm of the smallest girl in class and another about him manually pumping water while the girls were taking a bath – a common occurrence in India where kids take bath at public pumps all the time and no one thinks any of it, and that was all. Is this what triggers people nowadays? It’s not even a mole hill to make a mountain of.

CPO report makes it clear that they were concerned mostly with people’s reactions and that they didn’t see any victims to be rescued. That paragraph reads as if CPO was acting as “mind protection office” there, but they clearly failed given the amount of outrage BVPS’ behavior eventually caused.

Then we were given a link to 2015 report on Sri Radhe that “confirmed” BVPS transgressions from 2007 paper. I’ve read that, too. All I learned from that is that Sri Radhe, the “child abuser”, had a group of favorite students, Coke in her fridge, and snack wrappers in her trash. I can’t help but put “child abuser” in quotes. As far as accusation of inappropriate behavior between her and BVPS goes – I understand it happened when she got engaged, married, and pregnant, and, in any case, this has nothing to do with CPO matters.

In Sri Radhe’s report one thing stood out for me, though – all the girls were introduced as victims – “victim 1 says, victim 7 says” and so on, and yet no crimes were mentioned. A teacher “yelling” at the class is not a crime, or is it now? Then it occurred to me that in another possible interpretation these girls were, indeed, victims – victims of CPO investigation. They were forced to search their memories for all the negative experiences and then magnify and verbalize them, and then CPO officers validated them by writing them down and making them into official records. It looks as if girls were manipulated and their minds agitated against their teacher and I don’t know how they could come back and look the teacher in the eye after that. And it’s not just one relationship that was broken forever, I’m afraid they’ll never be able to trust any of their future teachers either, and, perhaps, they’ll always have reservations against surrendering to their gurus, too. It’s very easy to poison a child’s mind and I’m afraid CPO did just that. I can understand how no gurukula would want CPO officers to interview their students because damage caused by such investigations can’t be easily undone.

Then there was a link to an old Sun article on BVPS abuse from twenty-thirty years ago. In one of the recent posts the word “rape” was used as if BVPS was a child rapist, and yet this word does not appear in that long article. He did nothing of the kind at all, that “abuse” was about older kids engaging in homosexual behavior with each other and BVPS failing to prevent it and protect younger boys from it. Then there was a matter of corporal punishment but it was mentioned only briefly. At the time it was legal in Bengal and kids at Mayapur gurukula quite possibly had it easier than if they’d gone to other schools. The article mentions that silence from BVPS was considered a far heavier punishment than any beatings. Should CPO prosecute people for not speaking to children now? In the end – it was all pre-1991, BVPS has been sanctioned for it, none of it happens at the present time, and so it should be put to rest.

I remember one episode from last year’s video where, at the end of the class by BVPS, a female devotee stands up and practically starts reading a prepared list of accusations against him that had nothing to do with anything he said. I’m sure she felt she was rallying for a good cause but to me it showed a blatant disrespect for the position awarded to a class speaker, who should be treated as a representative of Vyasadeva himself. Carried away by anger these people lose their intelligence, their power to discriminate between right and wrong – just as Krishna described descent into hell in Bhagavad Gita. Someone mentioned here that BVPS is not allowed to give classes in the UK but he is a regular speaker at Bhagavatam classes in Mayapur where not only devotees but Sri Sri Radha Madhava, Panca Tattva, and Lord Nrisimha have no problems hearing him speaking every Sunday. He is good enough for Them but not good enough for the UK. Whose loss is that?

And it all sprung up to life from him rubbing chickpea paste on a girl’s forearm… This obviously can’t be the reason. I think what drives this outrage is the desire to feel righteous, promote a good cause, and rage against designated culprits to one’s heart content. This behavior doesn’t really need external reasons, any excuse would do, like spotting a word “rape” or “beatings” in some article. Triggering it is super easy. CPO officers from 2007 BVPS report realized and mentioned that danger but, according to their report, BVPS didn’t seem to care, and so here we are.

Much of the current debate is about Bhakti Vikasa Swami’s presentation, too. I don’t think his opponents read him carefully, without prejudice. Why accuse him of giving quotes out of context, for example? He only said that these quotes exist, that Srila Prabhupada did on some occasions support physical punishment for children. This fact is true regardless of context the quotes were made in. And then BVKS defended his understanding of the context, and people objected even more, and in this way the whole thing snowballs out of control and BVKS is accused of not following through on every argument.

It got to the point where devotees approaching Srila Prabhupada for guidance are accused of having “offensive contempt”. I don’t think anyone approached Srila Prabhupada with contempt, offensive or otherwise, in those days and Prabhupada and his servants would have spotted it right away. I can’t accept this as part of the “correct” context for that infamous conversation about gurukula, nor is this the context as relayed in Hari Sauri’s Transcendental Diary. They’ve discussed the discipline question for about 6 min out of a 44 min conversation, by the way.

It is true that Srila Prabhhupada was reluctant to accept corporal punishment as a solution and recommended that trouble maker should be sent to a farm but imagine the outrage if our gurukula managers started doing just that – sending thirteen year old boys to dig on farms, giving them no further education and following Prabhupada’s “not … everyone has to become literate” dictum! That would qualify as child labor and would be downright illegal. For all the analysis of that conversation this obvious point is somehow gets lost.

Bottom line, as I see it, is the usual – devotees bring modern standards from the outside and want to impose them on Vedic tradition. Today it’s opinions on child abuse and earlier it was about gender equality. Others do it with homosexuality and there’s the whole Krishna West movement, too.

Perhaps my accusations are unfair to devotees involved but I kept the names out so that I could talk about behavior, not personalities. In any case I beg forgiveness if I misunderstood their motives and their service. Still, this is the perspective present in my head and I can’t deny it’s there or that it’s not caused by observing this debate.

Hmm, on the re-read it’s actually not that bad, but I would definitely word it differently if I were to write this for Sampradaya Sun again.

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Vanity thought #1731. Abusive activism

Continuing from yesterday’s topic of alleged child abuse by Bhakti Vidyāpūrṇa Svāmī and others “disclosed” in this recent video. It’s been produced by an ex-gurukulī on a social justice trip. It’s short of facts but it makes up for it with abundance of emotionally charged language and takes no prisoners.

Last time I talked how it failed to produce evidence for child abuse by HH Bhakti Vidyāpūrṇa Svāmī. Being on the mission, however, overrides everything for the author. There’s a segment of him interrupting a Bhāgavatam class in Bhaktivedanta Manor just to draw attention. He says he wasn’t drawing attention to himself but to the child abuse but he has merged with his mission so thoroughly that it’s impossible to say where his identity stops and that of his mission starts. To me it looks like his entire video was about himself rather than actual abuse that might or might not go on in ISKCON gurukulas at present moment. Eighties is not the subject of this video.

To be honest, I’m not using emotionally neutral language here either and I attribute it to the abuse of my intelligence at the hands of this social justice warrior. The point still stands.

That disruption was well prepared, he had a list to read his complaints from and he had people in the audience with prepared speeches, too. Bhakti Vidyāpūrṇa Svāmī largely kept his cool but he wasn’t going to put up with disrupting Bhāgavatam for anyone’s personal interest so he engaged with a woman in the audience and, predictably, nothing good came out of it. These back and forth exchanges are unwinnable. Those who had their mind set would only strengthen their conviction, like the maker of this video, and those who don’t understand that disrupting Bhāgavatam class is decidedly un-Krishna conscious thing to do are.. Well, I don’t know if such devotees exists at all.

During brief exchange Mahārāja asked what constitutes child abuse and while the woman was reading out the definition he said that it didn’t happen in practice but the female devotee didn’t pause to argue why his interpretation was wrong and simply pressed her with her accusations. Let’s look at exactly what she said: “A child abuser is one who degrades a child.. abuse him by inflicting him physical, mental, or emotional punishment which is undue and unproportionate.” Emphasis is mine. To this Mahārāja replied that by this definition the allegations are not true. The video replayed this response a few times and I don’t know what effect they were expecting to produce. In Mahārāja’s view the punishment was due and proportionate, it was also perfectly legal at the time. What else can be said about that? Either talk about what should be the correct proportion or accept it.

Mahārāja then said another important thing on the spot – it’s not a quest for truth, as his accusers present it, but rather a free expression of people’s feelings, a social thing. He said that if it was a real quest for truth, meaning a quest for connection with Kṛṣṇa, then people wouldn’t be standing there disrupting a class.

Somehow the episode led to banning Mahārāja from speaking at Bhaktivedanta Manor ever again, as well as banning the author of the video who organized it. I can see how management there might want to avoid speakers who attract controversy or that they think that there’s some truth behind these accusations but it sets a dangerous precedent where different ISKCON temples have lists of different ISKCON gurus who can’t speak there. A guru is someone who is capable of delivering one from the cycle of birth and death and bringing him to service to Kṛṣṇa and they don’t want to hear from such person?

We have a due process by which a person might become disqualified from guru service or even disqualified from speaking in ISKCON altogether but by all accounts Bhakti Vidyāpūrṇa Svāmī is a guru in perfectly good standing. He is a regular (and popular) speaker at Māyāpura and devotees in England can always tune in to Mayapur TV broadcasts but he is not allowed to visit Manor? Why? Either authorities there reject spiritual potency that comes from hearing him speak or they are playing local politics. What about Bhakti Vikāśa Svāmī? He is not going to be invited to speak at Manor and some other European temples where he is explicitly banned. He is not a child abuser and has no personal blemishes that would discredit him before any kind of audience. There are no GBC issued guidelines telling us how exactly he deviates from Śrīla Prabhupāda (and he doesn’t – it should be clear to all who hear him speak). What reasons can devotees there offer to refuse hearing from these personalities? Are they selective in what parts of Prabhupāda’s teachings to accept? Are they specifically refusing to hear parts of his teachings that they don’t like?

Whatever it is, it needs a resolution or we will have a splintered society where some devotees would refuse to listen to some gurus while other devotees would avoid visiting temples where their gurus are not welcome. It isn’t quite so bad so far but eventually GBC will have to address this issue or lose its grip on the situation.

There rest of the video is about current management of Vṛndāvana gurukula and it features some angry mātājī telling us how no one would listen to her and how child abusers are being protected by ISKCON management. The only case of child abuse actually mentioned was a female teacher pinching stomach of a boy who misbehaved during a temple program. And for that they demand a revolution? They surely love the sound of their voices but who do they think they are and why should we care?

Their website, krishnachildren.com, has a counter for the visitors and for those who signed their online petition. So far less than one in ten visitors supported their cause, one in twenty if you add youtube count, and that’s the power of their persuasion, and I bet they got people who are really interested in these issues, too.

There was another video that I watched on the same topic. It’s forty minutes long and has overlayed text to tell us what’s going on. I wish there was a way to turn the text off but it’s embedded in the video itself. Without it all one would see is a darśana where parents bring their children to talk to the guru, via an interpreter. What the sick mind of a producer saw was a pedophile grooming children for eventual abuse. This really reflects on the mental state of the producer than on anything else. I see that the article presenting this video has been pulled from Sampradaya Sun so I have no further comments, too, and I don’t think they are necessary.

Thus ends my paying attention to social justice warriors in our society.

Vanity thought #1730. Abuse

This week I also watched a couple of “child abuse” videos promoted on Sampradaya Sun. There’s “krishnachildren.com” and a video hosted on dailymotion showing ISKCON’s “sexual pervert” in action. Well, that was a couple of hours of my life lost and my intelligence abused. They’d say that it’s nothing compared to the abuse of actual children but I don’t see the connection.

I think people producing these videos are totally mental, living in the bubble world of their minds with little connection to reality. Of course we all have different ideas of what reality is but these two are clearly prisoners of their own minds.

“Cost of Silence” on krishnachildren.com is a recent production by a former gurukulī. It’s an hour long but I formed my opinion of it very early on, the rest of the time I was waiting for something, anything to turn it around. It would have been unfair to dismiss the video as groundless until I watched it through, it was a sacrifice and I’m not sure it was worth it.

All they do, scene after scene, is to talk about horrific abuse of children in our gurukulas, mainly Māyāpura and Vṛndāvana, in the most damning language possible but with no facts to support there was any abuse there presented whatsoever. None. Something must have been there twenty-thirty years ago but what exactly remains a mystery and absolutely nothing on the present day abuse, which is what this video is about.

It’s been a couple of days already but what I remember is this – back in the eighties or nineties Bhakti Vidyāpūrṇa Svāmī administered corporal punishment to student in Māyāpura, there was some bullying with sexual overtones form older students, and one female teacher pinched a stomach of a misbehaving boy in Vṛndāvana. That’s all.

Now, corporal punishment is considered abuse by the author of this video but it was a perfectly legal practice at the time. In West Bengal, where Māyāpura is located, it was outlawed in 2004. In half of the US school corporal punishment it still legal, so what they are on about? Nothing.

As it was described in the video, Bhakti Vidyāpūrṇa Svāmī carried a bamboo stick all the time so as to instill fear of discipline into students. This is practice specifically advocated by Śrīla Prabhupāda – carry the stick but do not actually strike the children. I think it appears in the quotes in the video itself but they are taken from Prabhupāda’s letters from 1972 – very early on in history of gurukulas. Later on, as Prabhupāda was presented with actual problems he was more practical.

There’s this conversation from 1976 where managers of Vṛndāvana gurukula approached Prabhupāda for guidance and towards the end the the subject of corporal punishment came up. There was a thirteen year old boy there who just didn’t want to behave and there was nothing teachers could do. Prabhupāda’s solution was to send him to either work or to go preaching in Bhavānanda Mahārāja’s party. Devotees said that Bhavānanda wouldn’t take this boy because he knows of his behavioral problems and so it was decided that the boy had to go on a farm in Hyderabad and work there. Devotees in Hyderabad didn’t want him in their temple either but farming was different.

At the end Prabhupāda said: “Yes, send him to farm, work in the field. If he does not work, beat him.” Devotees recommended publicly punishing him in front of the other boys to demonstrate what happens to those who do not obey the rules and Prabhupāda left it to their discretion: “As you think, you can do. But I wanted to engage in farm work, in digging.”

For this devotees, and specifically for Jagadīśa Prabhu, who was the principal of Vṛndāvana gurukula for many years afterwards, these personal instructions were undoubtedly the main guideline overwriting anything else proposed by materialistic liberal educators. I can’t comment on possible excesses that led to Jagadīśa’s eventual downfall because I simply don’t know what happened and this video doesn’t say a word about what he actually did, except to call him a serial abuser or something. His story is a story from the eighties, not a subject for this video.

Bhakti Vidyāpūrṇa Mahārāja, otoh, is a big figure in current day Māyāpura and they focused half a video on him. Back in the nineties he was banned from taking all positions managing children but now he is in charge of Mayāpura gurukula again, the video says. Actually they admit that he is not in charge of the gurukula per se but some other organization closely related and possibly including it but that doesn’t stop them from using his case as an example of ISKCON not following its own child protection resolutions. As I remember, the resolution left the possibility of him managing gurukula again with explicit permission of relevant authorities but video’s author doesn’t consider that this permission might have been granted and Mahārāja’s presence there is totally legitimate. This oversight is insulting to people’s intelligence because instead of checking the obvious it tries to overwhelm us with emotionally charged rhetoric.

Another obvious question is how these do-gooders expected Bhakti Vidyāpūrṇa Svāmī to deal with allegations of bullying. Punish the bullies and they call you child abuser. Don’t punish the bullies and they’ll blame you again. We are not given any clues as to how Mahārāja reacted to bulling reports either, just that he took notice and promised to investigate, which is what any person in charge would have said on hearing such things. The actual punishment would have been administered later but we were not told what it was, nor we were told that Mahārāja ignored these reports either. Let’s just call him a child abuser anyway. Because it makes us feel good and self-righteous. I’m not buying that.

Back to the corporal punishment – from the video it appears that it was done after consideration of facts, when everybody knew what the boys were accused of, and correct number of strikes had been determined. It wasn’t lashing at kids at will, it wasn’t a spontaneous reaction by an unbalanced individual, it was more or less like justice system works all over the world. I’m pretty sure boys had something to say in their defense, too, and their accounts were considered.

We should not underestimate the value of an example here, too. Children by nature lack self-discipline and they need to know the boundaries. The knowledge of boundaries comes from experience, which is, at the end of the chain, usually painful. Those who have enough intelligence do not need to follow it through until the end and could be deterred from doing something simply by a disapproving look of a teacher, others need words and direct orders, and others would do something anyway. In any case, what happens next sets a precedent for others. If kids can get away with it others will surely follow and pretty soon there’d be no discipline left and without discipline there’d be no learning. Disobeying teachers is not an option, at least not in the Vedic culture.

If these two examples, corporal punishment and bullying by older children, are used to designate Bhakti Vidyāpūrṇa Svāmī as a child abuser I’d say that these people are extremely unreasonable. If they had any more evidence they would have surely brought it but they didn’t, that was enough to set them on their course. Bhakti Vidyāpūrṇa Svāmī features in another scene in that video but I’ll address it another time.

Vanity thought #1520. Judging History

Next in the animated short summary of the debate on the merits of the Catholic Church was Anne Widdecombe’s attack on the atheist historical perspective. I won’t go through all the accusations hurled the Catholics way, there was Inquisition, there were Crusades, there was destruction of Constantinople etc etc. Hitchens read the long list of these past crimes and it was a blood boiling stuff that the Church can’t deny, in fact it publicly apologized for it, as Hitchens noted. That is not the end of the story, though.

As I said a couple of days ago, bringing up past transgressions for which the guilty party has apologized is too vindictive to my taste. Hitchens could have said that the apology was not accepted so he is free to raise this subject again and again but these crimes weren’t committed against him, the apology wasn’t directed at him. Afaik, no one blames the current Church for the sins of their predecessors, most of the world realized that it’s time to move on.

Hitchens then would say that if we want to judge the overall merits of the Church then we have to consider history as well, it’s not like the Church has always been good until recent child abuse scandals came out. Fine, let’s look at history then, and that’s what Widdecombe’s argument was all about:

“If you are going to judge the Catholic Church at any given stage in history then you have to judge it against the standards that were prevailing at the time, and condemning the Inquisition, which was a horrible thing [condemning or Inquisition was horrible?]… Condemning the Inquisition in isolation from condemning just about the whole, in fact the whole of European society, which at that time rejoiced in punishment and torture as a means of dealing with criminality, and with treason, and with wrongdoing, to try and divorce the Catholic Church from that and say that it was uniquely guilty, under the inquisition, is simply trying to look back at centuries gone past and apply a standard that nobody applied at the time.”

Nice, even though somewhat imperfect. There was a little ambiguity in the middle and the end wasn’t as powerful as the build up suggested but it’s still a solid argument. I don’t know how to improve it, perhaps just add that we don’t apply laws retroactively, it something wasn’t a crime at the time it happened it can’t be judged as crime now. If we now think that torture was wrong but at the time of the Inquisition it wasn’t, then the Catholic contribution to the society wasn’t evil by that society’s standards. At the time it could have been seen as a force for good while still torturing the heretics, no one minded.

Or, put it another way, if contemporary society didn’t think that Inquisition was bad and rather thought that the Church was undeniably good, then that’s what we have to accept as evidence from history. Hitchens could have found some testimonies condemning the church but he didn’t and so we can assume everyone went along with the Inquisition just fine.

As an argument it was solid but as a means to win the debate it wasn’t, because by that time it was all about rhetoric and emotional appeals. Hitchens’ cries for justice were more appealing even if there were groundless so they counted while Widdecombe’s argument didn’t.

Fry also jumped in, and the animation editors made it sound as if he was directly addressing Widdecombe but he went precisely nowhere. No matter, he did in style, with audience drooling at every turn of his thought, so he “won”.

“Now all this is in the past and it’s irrelevant and I acceede to Anne Widdecombe how irrelevant it is, except in one thing. This Church is founded on the principle of intercession. Only through the apostolic succession, only through the laying on of hands, from this Galilean carpenter, who we can all admire, only from the laying on of hands from his apostles, to Saint Peter, to the other bishops, all the way down to everyone consecrated in this room [consecrated in THIS room?], anyone ordained here [here?] will know they are… they have this extraordinary power to change the molecules of wine into blood, literally, to change the molecules of paste bread into flesh, literally, and to forgive the sins of the peasants and the poor whom they routinely exploited around the planet. Only this Church has this extraordinary principle that it is through these male priests, and only male priests, that this is given. It is a doctrinal fact, it is more than a doctrinal fact, it is a dogma, “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus”, outside the Church there’s no salvation.”

What has it got to do with history and Widdecombe’s argument against judging it my modern standards? Nothing whatsoever, the conclusion is an entirely different subject. I can’t be bothered to mark every word Fry stressed there with capitals, and despite a little ambiguity in the middle as well, the overall effect was in Fry’s favor because he is simply a better speaker with a better voice, and a better command of his voice.

Next time you hear atheists claim that they win with logic and reason remember that it’s not true, they are as reliant on flourish and rhetoric as any politician out there and logic and reason are often completely missing from their presentations, no matter how convincing they sound.

The animation moved on but there’s one more thing I think needs to be said about history. In the full version of the debate Widdecombe continued with the defense of child abuse, too – if judged from the perspective of that era, which wasn’t a long time ago but is still in the past. She was referring to the activities of Pedophile Information Exchange, a group that was disbanded only in 1984 and which was affiliated with UK’s Council for Civil Liberties and printed booklets on pedophilia sponsored by public funds. It wasn’t a big deal then, Widdecombe argued, we made it into a big deal much later. Respectable people who no one would ever accuse of child abuse supported that group and everyone was simply acting out the ignorance of that time.

She then also added that when they, the Church, learned of the abusive behavior they weren’t taught, because no one knew it at the time, that there’s no way that someone who abused would simply stop. I suppose she implied that punishing the priests was enough and there was no need to remove them from their positions. Punishment in those days was also light, it appears from her speech. The realization that sex offenders need to be registered and watched permanently didn’t occur to anyone until mid-nineties. In retrospect, she said, the Church should have acted differently, but so should have the magistrates, the courts, the Council for Civil Liberties etc etc.

This is the argument I heard from one ISKCON leader as well. At the time no one knew what to do and what the real dangers were, ISKCON acted as it would have been expected at the time, and it was only until much later that the world has realized it wasn’t enough. Neither we, nor the Catholic Church, had any unique insights into sex-offenders psychology at the time.

Could we have turned to Śrīla Prabhupāda or to śāstra on this? Nope, child abuse is such a low grade behavior that it goes beneath śāstra’s radar, and it didn’t even occur to Śrīla Prabhupāda.

Personally, I think the same argument can be made in defense of rape in our books. I don’t think Prabhupāda ever meant forcing oneself on a woman while she is screaming and fighting back with all her might. I don’t think “rape” in our books ever means sex without consent but a testament to the power of man’s persuasion. Some men are hard to refuse, like Rāvaṇa. He could have “raped” Sīta in the modern sense of the word but sex without consent didn’t occur to even demons like him, it’s such a low grade behavior and Rāvaṇa was an exemplary king in many respects, he wouldn’t have stooped so low.

This needs further investigation, though.

Edit:  Rāvana did rape a woman, though, and was cursed that he’d die if he ever tried it again. My bad. “Even Rāvana” part of the argument doesn’t hold.