RANGOON, Burma, July 2 -- Ecclesiastical courts have defrocked three highly respected monks for sexual misconduct and theft, stunning Burma's devout Buddhists, state-controlled newspapers in Rangoon said today.
Brief press reports said the three monks admitted violating monastic vows in separate hearings before the religious courts.
The reports said the presiding monk of a monastery and meditation center in the suburbs of Rangoon confessed to having sexual relations with women, thereby breaking a priestly vow to lead a life of absolute celibacy.
The monk's wide circle of disciples included film stars and Buddhist diplomats from foreign missions in Rangoon. The reports said some of his followers believed he had mystical powers.
The second monk, abbot of a monastery in central Rangoon, admitted taking lumber from a publicly owned monastery that had been dismantled. The court ruled he violated the monk's pledge against taking anything not given by the owner.
The third case involved a middle-aged monk living near Pagan, in central Burma, who had earned a wide reputation by repairing and renovating historic pagodas and shrines throughout the country. He confessed to having had sexual relations with women and the court ordered him to leave the monastic order, the reports said.
Last year Burma established a system of ecclesiastical courts to hear cases involving charges made against the nation's large Buddhist monastic community.