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- Protection of the members of ISKCON is an important part of any leadership role. This is not only the case when children are involved, but with adults as well. In many jurisdictions, when a religious leader makes a sexual advance or proposition to an individual in their congregation or care it is viewed as clergy sexual misconduct. Such behavior is viewed as a betrayal of trust as well as exploitation because the congregant is in a vulnerable position due to their having faith in the leader.
- Clergy sexual misconduct is harmful even though genuine feelings of care and affection may be involved and even if the religious leader intends no harm. Whether a religious leader enters into a ‘love affair’ with a member of the congregation with good intentions or is acting merely for selfish motives, the detrimental effect on the congregation and others can be the same.
- What About Mutual Consent?
- A romantic relationship which involves a religious leader and a congregant who is not a spouse is an abnormal and unacceptable situation. An affair, flirting, or illicit association of any kind is misconduct because there is an imbalance of position, power, authority and knowledge.
- Similar to the teacher-student or doctor-patient relationship, a religious leader’s authority over a congregant entails greater responsibility for acting properly within that relationship. Thus when a person with spiritual authority, respect and power mismanges the responsibility placed in them, there is no mutual consent. Religious leaders and congregants need to be aware of this dynamic. Based on the trust and admiration a spiritually minded congregant may have for a religious leader, the congregant could engage in behavior that she or he would never have considered in another situation.
- Disturbance in the Community
- Clergy sexual misconduct has the potential to profoundly disturb the devotional lives of those involved as well as the potential to create disturbance in the devotional community at large. Some community members may blame or disbelieve the person who has been taken advantage of, while others may condemn the religious leader. Experience demonstrates the the families and friends of both parties suffer significant emotional distress. This is often the case whether or not genuine affection was expressed or felt.
- Leadership Responsibilities
- Relationships in devotional life are critically important. Devotee association gives us spiritual strength and inspiration. Those relationships however, must be carefully managed- particularly for those in leadership positions.
- Leadership is an opportunity to be ” the servant of the servant”. Leaders must be kind and compassionate and inspire devotees in service. On the other hand, leaders must maintain a professional and respectful emotional distance, one that establishes trust and confidence.
- The effect of clergy sexual misconduct has become increasingly recognized across many religious denominations. ISKCON North America is choosing to be proactive in preventing such abuse. In this light, it is important for all members of ISKCON to understand clergy sexual misconduct. Leaders especially, need to inform themselves and others who serve with them.
- Report Clergy Sexual Misconduct
- Any abuse classified as criminal in your area must be reported to legal authorities such as police. Become familiar with your local laws and reporting procedures.
- If you suspect clergy sexual misconduct in your community:
- 1. E- mail a report to North American GBC Secretary – Secretary.NAGBC@pamho.net
- 2. Inform your GBC representative that you have made such a report
- 3. Refer to the North American ISKCON Policy and Operation Guidelines for information regrading internal review procedures. (A copy can be obtained from the NC GBC secretary)