A Buddhist temple leader in Louisiana is facing a civil suit after being accused of recruiting nuns from Vietnam and engaging in sexual misconduct, including allegedly impregnating one of them.
Abbot Quyen Van Ho, the head of Tam Bao Temple in Baton Rouge, has caused irreparable damage by “violating his vows of Buddhism, including his vow of celibacy,” the suit reportedly claims.
“Quyen Van Ho’s immoral actions have caused all monks, nuns, and novices (except Quyen Van Ho himself and one other monk) to leave Tam Bao Temple. Because of this, membership has decreased and therefore the ability to raise funds by members of the temple has decreased,” the suit filed in April read.
Temple members have called for Ho’s removal from the temple after accusing him of impregnating a nun in the spring of 2018. He allegedly sent her back to Vietnam after an abortion clinic denied the procedure because she was too far along in her pregnancy.
Ho has denied the allegations against him. After the preliminary injunction hearing in Baton Rouge on Monday, Yigal Bander, one of Ho’s attorneys, called the claims “defamatory lies.”
Bander argued that the plaintiffs had little to no evidence and noted that there is an “overwhelming majority” of the community supporting Ho.
“The courts are not there to decide who’s a good pastor, whether a pastor should be hired or fired, whether a pastor is doing his faith credit or not,” Bander was quoted as saying.
It is not yet known whether the court will be ruling on the suit as it purportedly interferes with First Amendment protections, which prohibits the government from intervening in the free exercise of religion.
“The government doesn’t get to pick who our religious leaders are,” Tanner Woods, one of Ho’s attorneys, told BRProud News.
At Monday’s hearing, the judge suggested that community members themselves hold an internal election to determine Ho’s fate in the temple.
Ho, whose religious name is Thich Dao Quang, has led the Buddhist temple since 2003. Plaintiffs claimed that Ho’s sexual misconduct had been tolerated for years before the civil suit was even filed. He allegedly recruited Vietnamese nuns for sexual purposes and allowed sexual relationships between monks and nuns at the temple despite celibacy vows.
Temple member Phuong Le, who is one of the plaintiffs, also claimed to have evidence of sexually explicit text messages and photographs sent by Ho and another monk in 2020, which Bander has denied.
“None [of the] allegations about my personal misconduct are true,” Ho told BRProud News. “I want to have this election as soon as possible.”
Community members, including Mya Tran and Lila Ton, showed their support for the plaintiffs by attending the hearing on Monday.
“I think it is really important for us to shed light on this situation and not be silent, especially as a younger Buddhist woman myself,” Tran said. “I look up to a lot of these women, especially for what they have done for our community, and seeing them be so oppressed and silenced in this situation really upset me.”
“This is a place where we all come together as Vietnamese Buddhists, we want to learn and strengthen our community but now it’s just divided,” Ton said.“We’ve tried so many avenues to grant him forgiveness, and it’s just time that the court stepped in. We want what’s best for the community, that’s really it.”