Buddhist monk’s alleged fling sparks temple row
A row has erupted at a Melbourne Buddhist temple after its head monk was suspended for allegedly shacking up with a woman in breach of his celibacy vow.
The salacious details emerged as a legal dispute over who should run the Khmer Buddhist Temple Association landed in Victoria's Supreme Court.
Court documents allege an investigation by the association's committee found Hout Chhet, the head monk at its Eysanmeanchey Temple in Thomastown, had breached his Buddhist order by:
HAVING sexual relations with a woman;
REGISTERING a rival association called the Cambodian-Australian Buddhist Temple Association Inc in which he is the sole director at the woman's house;
SPONSORING Buddhist monks without the knowledge or authority of the committee;
POSSESSING a substantial amount of cash; and
PURCHASING a Cranbourne North property in his own name.
Association Vice President Visal Mom told the court, in an affidavit, they suspended Venerable Chhet, who had been the resident monk at the monastery since 2012, in December.
"As Cambodian Buddhists, we pay immense respect to our monks and give them substantial privileges because of the sacrifice they have made to renounce the worldly things," Mr Mom said.
"We expect immense spiritual strength and rectitude from them. Buddhist monks are celibate, do not own property and survive from alms from the community."
When Venerable Chhet got wind of the internal inquiry into him, Mr Mom claims the abbot got the support of committee president Sothy Samreth who called for an impromptu election to "hijack" the governance from those investigating him.
Police were called to the meeting outside the temple on November 22 as a large crowd gathered, despite COVID restrictions.
Mr Mom said the temple's community members were grabbing the forms and pieces of paper that were being handed out and tearing them up, yelling at the new committee candidates that they were "frauds" and "cheating".
Changes were then made to his log-in details on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission website, and the names of some office bearers amended, he said.
The association immediately sought - and were granted on Thursday - an interim injunction in the Supreme Court to stop the new committee members from taking over.
Justice Greg Garde said the meeting to elect a new committee was not lawful and ordered the previous committee be reinstated.
"It is clear the association is in a state of deadlock" he said.
"The first step is to end the moves and countermoves that have occurred.
"I will restore the former committee to office ... and restrain the defendants from acting on behalf of the (association) until further order."
He urged the warring parties to avoid "the slogging match that seems to have taken place so far" and undergo mediation.
In an earlier hearing, barrister Andy Naidu, representing the association, said an investigation was sparked by three committee members, excluding the president, after receiving reports Venerable Chhet had established a rival Buddhist association and started pilfering monks that had been sponsored by the Khmer Buddhist Temple Association to be in Australia.
Mr Naidu said Venerable Chhet had also purchased a property in his own name, when he has no income as an abbot, and "had sexual relations against his abbotship".
"When the investigation ring was tightening they decided to hold an election … so that this investigation would be stopped," Mr Naidu said.
John Sutton, representing the monk, Mr Samreth and the three newly-elected committee members, suggested no rules had been followed at the association for some time.
"We are dealing here with a community group where the first language for probably all of them is not English … where they are probably not familiar with the processes," he said.
"It is very hard to see that anything has been done with any regularity."
The court heard Venerable Chhet denied the allegations.
He did not respond to the Herald Sun's requests for comment.
Cambodian Association of Victoria president Youhorn Chea, a former Greater Dandenong councillor, backed the monk.
He said there was no evidence Venerable Chhet had done anything wrong.
"It was all rumours," he told the Herald Sun.
Originally published as Buddhist monk's alleged fling sparks temple row