You come home after a long day, switch on the TV news and suddenly you see an old face that you know in the headlines.
Gooseflesh raised on every inch of my body. It was Fabian Frederick Blandford, a former Buddhist monk, respected scholar and human rights activist, arrested by Thai cops after a tip off from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Blandford, 64, now faces 7 years hard time in the Bangkok Hilton for possessing and distributing child pornography from his computer.
Before I go and unfriend him on Facebook, I'd best explain the connection. When I was a Buddhist monk at a remote monastery on the Thai-Myanmar border in 2009, Blandford was "Father Fred", the resident mentor and Dharma teacher. Now the pious, saintly figure who taught us novice monks to chant in Pali, fold our robes and meditate is an alleged international child pornographer. Hanging's too good for him, right?
Wrong. You don't wish for bad karma when you are supposed to be a Buddhist. However, like a great many others, who thought they knew him, I feel angry, offended, sad. Horrified at the realization that children have been hurt and exploited even more. How could he do this? An old bit of Father Fred's wit and wisdom comes to mind: "Bad karma is like a restaurant bill. When it comes, accept the consequences and pay up". Well, I guess he is doing that just right now in an overcrowded Thai prison cell.
And this isn't the first time that I have been let down by an authority figure steeped in holiness and charity. When I was a pupil and wannabe monk at Douai, a prestigious Catholic boarding school in the English countryside, Father Michael, a respected priest and educator, was jailed for molesting a pupil in the confessional box. The school and the church tried to hush it up. The parents weren't having it. Father Michael was prosecuted, convicted and the school closed down shortly after.
That cover up pretty much shattered my faith in Catholicism, and was one of the things that led me to explore Buddhist philosophy. I never thought that I would become a monk, and being a monk was one of the hardest and most fulfilling experiences of my life. Unfortunately, Father Fred is part and parcel of that time. He was my teacher. He was present at my ordination. And he was on hand with good advice when the going got tough. Father Fred can be unfriended and blocked on social media, but not entirely airbrushed from memory.
Both incidents have given me much to think about the last few weeks. The coincidence of two pedophiles choosing a structured life. Is it to contain them? Are the most pious of us the greatest sinners? Or does the cloistered life just provide these predatory characters with respectable cover and soft targets? Then you begin to question your own role. Was I so blinded by inward contemplation and spiritual narcissism at the monastery to not notice what was supposedly going on around me? That Father Fred innocently taking pictures of refugee children, at local orphanages, was a front for something else entirely? A fellow monk said that he suspected something four years ago, but didn't inform the Abbot. Now he regrets it.
I told him not to blame himself. Not all devils wear horns. And sometimes the greatest evil is found where the highest good has been corrupted. Moreover, pedophiles can be difficult to recognize. They look like everybody else and it doesn't do to underestimate them. They move in various walks of life, but they are very careful and quite clever. And they look just like everybody else. They have friends like everyone else.
The thing to also bear in mind is that evil doesn't care what you look like. And evil doesn't care if you are a Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim or Scientologist. Men, and it is always banal seeming men like Father Fred and Father Michael, abuse in plain sight and get away with it, until they get caught by the authorities and exposed for what they are. Will 7 years in the Bangkok Hilton be enough for Father Fred and his victims? That's not up to you or me mate, that's up to karma, and karma alone.