The Chicago Tribune has a major investigative feature story on sexual abuse allegations in American Theravada temples serving ethnic Asian communities. The reporter, Megan Twohey, says "A Tribune review of sexual abuse cases involving several Theravada Buddhist temples found minimal accountability and lax oversight of monks accused of preying on vulnerable targets."
In short, monks have been able to skip out of facing charges simply by moving to another temple. This is possible because they are viewed as free agents, not answerable to a higher ecclesiastical authority. If a temple asks a monk to leave, once he is gone the monks remaining in a temple probably would not know where he went and cannot help law enforcement find him.
The feature focuses on a Chicago-area monk who allegedly molested at least two adolescent girls and impregnated one of them. The monk confessed to fondling the girls, but not to sexual intercourse. The temple sent a letter to the family saying the matter was "resolved" and the monk had been sent back to Thailand, although in fact he only got as far as another temple in California, where he has access to more adolescent girls.
The reporter tracked the monk down and informed him that DNA evidence had determined he is the father of a child. He appeared happy to hear this but insists he hadn't had sex with the child's mother, but had only given her money and candy. (According to the rules of the Vinaya, a monk who confesses to sexual intercourse is automatically expelled from the order.)
Another monk who had faced criminal charges for sexual assault of a 16-year-old in Texas evaded police with the help of his temple. A California temple was found guilty of negligence after one of its monks was convicted and imprisoned of multiple sexual assaults.
According to one source there are approximately 350 Theravada temples in the U.S., housing more than 1,000 monks. I trust the monks involved in sexual predation are a small minority. Because there is no institutional authority in the U.S. over these temples, it is up to the heads of individual temples to determine what to do about monks accused of wrongdoing. There is also no authority assigning monks to this or that temple. Monks are free to leave as they wish and seek a position in another temple.
A senior monk at the Chicago temple said that a decision was made to keep quiet about the monk's reasons for leaving, in order to not upset the community. But I hope someone can explain to the senior monks in American temples that (a) it is better to upset the community than to keep silent when adolescent children are being abused; and (b) this news story reflects badly on all of western Buddhism. People can understand the occasional bad apple, but institutional enabling of sexual predation is not tolerable.