Sex scandals or more precisely the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and other religious leaders have been in news for almost a decade thanks to daring statements by those who were the victims of people they trusted most in religious matters. Who knows how many more cases are still buried in the memories of millions of people all over the world? And who knows how many more religious leaders are still preaching with a lid on their boiling sinful cauldron?
But why do we have to point at the deviant behavior of Catholic priests. There are many others in every religious community who can be identified as deviants in matters pertaining to immoral sexual relations. A Hindu Sanayasi (someone who vows to renounce the world) is absconding after his deviant sexual act with multiple women. The video footage of a Jewish rabbi visiting a minor to indulge in a sexual act is still in the memory of the people and one can also find news about Imams in America accused of sexual misconduct. In fact, the history of religions is full with stories of sexual digressions in convents, ashrams, religious seminaries and schools. Achariya Rajnish in the 70's emerged as one of most popular religious voices only to be busted as a sexual perverts. David Koreish still lingers in the memories of people for his multiple marriages with minors.
Labels do not make a person good or bad, actions do. To be known as a religious person or leaders does not mean that the person is also religious in one's actual life and follows the divine commandments in all of its aspects.
Ironically, almost every religious community promotes a theology that places emphasis on labels and symbols. Some describe their religious leaders infallible, others as holy and still others as pious and paragon of virtues. There are several sociological and psychological reasons for this deviant behavior. However, one dominant factor is the kind of theology that is accepted by many without looking at its ramifications.
Many Christians, for instance, believe that salvation comes only through accepting Jesus as the savior. In that theology, a person of Hitler's criminal nature, would also qualify for the divine grace as long as he accepts Jesus as the Lord. Many Hindus believe that the reincarnation of human soul wipes off its sinful nature by changing forms and shapes as it ultimately joins the divine soul. Many Jews believe that because of their special relation with God, they would never be subject to any accountability for their deviant behavior in the life hereafter. Many Muslims believe that because of their faith only they would eventually qualify for heaven after being accounted for their sins no matter how great.
Obviously, when religious leadership or anyone that believes the divine would judge them on their belief and not on their actions, it is difficult to acknowledge sins and their consequences in one's life.
The Quran emphatically challenges this notion of divine grace and mercy. Every action causes its consequences is the unchangeable divine principle. The Quran makes it known that even the minutest good or bad deed would have consequences to be borne by their performers. (Quran 10:61 - 21:47 - 34:3) Thus, labels alone would not be able to save a person. The actions would ultimately determine the fate of each and every human beings.
The Quran calls for a responsible behavior based on commitment to divine values from every human being. Quran 103:1-3)
What we see in the sexual deviation of religious leadership is a behavior that is challenging the notion of divine superiority. What is even worse is the attitude to hide these issues and not take a principled stand as a community or an organization. What is ironic is that only secular institutions have adopted a clear policy on child abuse and applied strict laws to deal with the situation.
It was the responsibility of those who claim that they were under the guidance of the divine to take a lead in ensuring that their presence in synagogues, churches, mosques, temples and other religious institutions would not be a source of concern for children, weaker sections of the society or the vulnerable ones.
What needs to be acknowledged is the fact that no one is infallible with the exception of those who were entrusted to communicate the divine message to human beings. Even the highest of religious authority is capable of committing acts of deviation from a religious perspective. Additionally, one has to recognize the fact that actions would always cause consequences. Without acknowledging this fundamental human reality, the Catholic Church or for that matter any other religious hierarchy would not be able to overcome its own deviations.
Dr. Aslam Abdullah is editor of the Detroit based English weekly, Muslim Observer, director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, Las Vegas and the recently elected General Secretary of the World Council of Muslims for Interfaith Relation. He is also the vice President of the Muslim Council of America, MCA.