A prominent Cambodian Buddhist monk living in Lowell, Massachusetts, has caused a scandal after a video was posted on YouTube earlier this month that allegedly showed him having sex with a female layperson inside a Buddhist temple in the second-largest Cambodian-American community.
Hundreds of people have protested over the past two weeks in Lowell, demanding that the woman and the monk—both of whom are on a committee managing construction of a controversial new temple in the area—be dismissed from their duties.
The protesters also called for the monk, the Venerable Nhem Kim Teng, to be defrocked in accordance with Buddhist law.
A video of the protests posted on YouTube shows several demonstrators on a Lowell street outside the Trairatanaran pagoda, where the tryst allegedly took place.
The video, which was also sent to the Lowell Sun Times, has exacerbated anger in Lowell’s Cambodian community, where allegations of misappropriation of funds have surrounded the $10-million project to build the new pagoda.
Lowell City Councilor Vesna Nuon said on Friday by phone that the local city government had urged the head monk of Trairatanaran pagoda to drop the monk and the woman, Maya Men, from the new pagoda committee.
However, the head monk has refused to cut contact with Ms. Men, while the monk, Nhem Kim Teng, who is a Cambodian national and currently on a religious visa in the U.S., had been dismissed and is no longer at the pagoda, Mr. Nuon said.
The whereabouts of Nhem Kim Teng are not known, and Ms. Men has secluded herself in Trairatanaran pagoda since the scandal broke.
Attempts to contact Nhem Kim Teng and Ms. Men for comment were unsuccessful.
“We don’t know where he is, but his [religious] U.S. visa runs out on April 22,” Mr. Nuon said, adding that Cambodian authorities had already been notified of the monk’s behavior, and a formal complaint would be made to the Ministry of Cults and Religion in Phnom Penh through the Cambodian Embassy in the U.S. next week.
Mr. Nuon said that further investigations were also necessary to determine if there is any substance to the rumors of financial wrongdoing regarding the new multimillion dollar pagoda project.
The city councilor also called for restraint in Lowell, where the Cambodian community has long been divided along political lines and has bickered for years regarding the land on which the new pagoda would be built.
Nhem Kim Teng also runs Santi Sena, a Buddhist environmental education and reforestation NGO founded in Svay Rieng province in 1994, which is based out of a pagoda in Svay Rieng City and is funded in part by development NGO Terres des Hommes Germany.
Sam An, program director for Santi Sena and acting director while Nhem Kim Teng is in the U.S., said he did not believe the allegations of an inappropriate relationship with Ms. Men, whom he had met in Lowell while visiting Nhem Kim Teng.
“They are just people who worked together to get successful results,” he said.
Yet echoing Mr. Nuon’s suggestion of Machiavellian forces at work in Lowell’s Cambodian community, Mr. An insisted that whoever had posted the video on YouTube had intended to divide the local community.
“There are rumors now that Venerable Kim Teng is a CPP spy, but I emphasize that whoever is responsible is trying to ruin his reputation for political benefit to break the Cambodian community abroad,” he said.
Chorn Iam, secretary of state at the Ministry of Cults and Religion, said on Friday that he had not yet received a formal complaint regarding the alleged events in the Lowell pagoda, but said that once that happens, a monastic committee would decide what action to take.
“Then, the ministry will have the power to defrock the monk, or not,” he said.