Netherlands: Buddhist monk sex abuse warnings were ignored

by Janene Van Jaarsveldt, NL Times, Jun 4, 2015

Amsterdam, The Netherlands -- Buddhist authorities ignored the warnings they received in at least two cases of Buddhist monk sexual abuse, NOS reports based on a reconstruction of events.

According to the broadcaster, leaders of Buddhism were informed about the abuse committed by Thai monk Mettavihari in the early 80’s. And in the major abuse case in Middleburg, involving Gerhard Mattioli, prominent Dutch Buddhist were warned in 2004. In both cases the warned authorities and others downplayed the abuse, looked the other way and only implemented inadequate measures.

In late 1980 or early 1981 police officers visited the Buddhist temple in Waalwijk and spoke to board member Patrick Franssen. The police told him that they have received a report of sexual abuse of a minor committed by head monk Mettavihari. Franssen already had had bad experiences with Mettavihari in this area. In 1974 he had forced a 19 year old boy – at that time still legally underage – to have sex with him and, according to Franssen, it happened 40 to 50 more times in the two years that followed. Franssen decided that Mettavihari had to go and went to Chicago to report his behavior to a high priest, who in his words represented the Thai “Ministry of Religious Affairs”.

Franssen told NOS that this high priest immediately decided to replace Mettavihari with another head monk. In June 1981 Mettavihari was dismissed as president of the temple administration and replaced by Henk Barendregt. But to Franssen surprise, Barendregt allowed Mettavihari, who was his teacher, to return to the temple administration just a few months later. Barendregt was supported by Aad Verboom, president of the Foundation for Young Buddhists Netherlands, and a loyal supporter of Mettavihari. A fierce debate arose with Franssen insisting those attending the temple, Thai Dutch people, would not support a monk that is secretly not celibate and Brendregt insisting that this view is old-fashioned. According to Franssen, the fact that it involved involuntary sex with minors did not play a decisive role in the discussion. In 2015 Aad Verboom admitted that he did not believe Franssen story about the abuse and apologized for it.

Barendregt eventually got his way, after which Franssen decided to leave the temple administration in December 1981. He was replaced by Mettavihari himself. NOS believes that more incidents followed. Mettavihari had to leave the temple in Waalwijk in 1983. Barendregt and Verboom did not investigate ho often Mettavihari misbehaved or how serious the misconducts were. According to the Thai monastic rules, a monk must resign as monk if he has sex, but Barendregt and Verboom did not find this necessary. They kept the reason Mettavihari had to leave the temple in Waalwjk a secret. The boards of other Buddhist centers only exchanged rumors about what happened in Waalwijk, which led to Mettavihari being able to abuse other young adult men in other places for another 9 years.

In the case of the major sexual abuse case in a Buddhist center in Middelburg, Frans de Reeper, who had been attending the center for over a year, heard a woman in tears telling someone on the phone that the monk who leads the group has put her out of the center. This conversation happened in the summer of 2004. According to the woman, she had a relationship with this monk, Gerhard Mattioli, for years. The relationship came to an end and he kicked her out of the group. De Reeper was stunned. He did some research, consulting literature and talking to an experienced monk and a Buddhist insitute. He also wrote a letter to Mattioli to ask him for an explanation, but he refused to answer his questions.

De Reeper then decided to take action. He wrote to other members of the grou explaining what he had learned. He also informed Jean Karel Hylkema, the then director of the Buddhist Broadcast BOS, the editors of the magazine Kwartaalblad Boeddhisme and the treasurer of the Buddhist Union BUN. He asks that, at the very least, the broadcaster and the magazine stop commercials and ads for Matttioli’s center, but with very little result.

Things finally came to an end in late 2007, when Mattioli’s group discovered that their teacher had sexual relationships with four women simultaneously. One of them became pregnant. Several of those went to the police, but eventually no charges were filed.