Robert Priddy (2). The Protection of the Young and Innocent
Posted by Barry Pittard on August 22, 2007
Disaffection from a powerful belief system is often a slowgoing process, particularly when there has been adherence to a charismatic figure. And this, moreover, when many followers experience states difficult to understand for those who undergo them as it is for even sympathetic scientists. Going on then, to expose to the public an institution’s and guru’s corruptions and other major shortcomings, no matter how determined the activist, is an often an extremely uphill journey.
This is a note on but a small aspect of the work of a valued colleague in the exposure of Sai Baba and his worldwide cult, Robert Priddy, now a retired lecturer in philosophy and social science from the University of Oslo. He was a long-term follower of Sai Baba and national leader of the Sathya Sai Organization. He makes the big effort, and stays the long haul, no matter the strenous demands, as a duty of conscience.
Protecting the Young First Imperative
The overwhelming concern of many disaffected, now former, Sai Baba followers was – as it is for adults the world over – the protection of the young and innocent. Comparing notes with Robert Priddy over time has only reinforced my repeated discovery that disaffection from a powerful movement is a slowgoing process, not least for those who are investigative by bent and training. (See, Robert Priddy (1). Erosion of Trust in Sai Baba Over Time).
Priddy, former head of Sai Baba’s Norwegian organization, and I were both strongly commited to work inspired by Sai Baba – he for nearly two decades, and I for 25 years. He ended his affiliation with the Sathya Sai Organization in 2000. My own leave-taking of Sai Baba occurred in October 1999, after my having been lengthily blind to quite a number of situations that for the less blinded would have been warning flags of something deeply amiss. I now begun to contact primary witnesses and/or their families in various parts of the world, with their reports that Sai Baba sexually abused boys and young men, and other allegations of profound misconduct – in regard to him, and – a later development – to certain Staff in his educational establishments. There was repeated evidence of cover up by leaders close to him, and by core leaders of his wordwide Sathya Sai Organization. Ever and again came the gutwrenching accounts, and these from people not remotely connected with each other.
Opposing Cover up That Is On A Grand Scale
This massive cover up prevails irrespective of which political forces have ruled India at any given time, and which protect Sai Baba. Apart from our own researchers, of whom Robert Pridddy is one of several, information highly adverse to Sai Baba and his ashrams has long been known to professionals in Indian journalism, police, government and politics. See, for example, my articles: Indian Ex Top Official Dogs Sai Baba On BBC. ‘Cold-blooded Murder’, and The BBC’s ‘The Secret Swami’ – A Revision.
Websites like those of Robert Priddy (Norway), Brian Steel (Australia), Lionel Fernandez (Mexico), www.Exbaba.com (Holland) reflect the far wider concern of former devotees of Sai Baba, and indeed other critics, that there be proper third-party investigation of the many and serious allegations.
Thorbjörn Meyer et alia.
Sathya Sai Organization’s Absence of Transparency, Accountability, and Duty of Care
Robert Priddy has published his Februry 2002 email exchanges with one of Sai Baba’s foremost leaders, Thorbjörn Meyer, HERE. In his introduction to the email exchange, Priddy wrote:
“I decided to approach Mr. Meyer, whom I have known somewhat in the past, with information that might help him investigate better. His response to this confirmed my worst suspicions about his bombastic refusal really to investigate the many and varied allegations about murder and ‘dirty’ play in Sai Baba’s ashram, Prashanti Nilayam. His failure to retract his own groundless allegations against victims of sexual molestation also confirmed and decisively documented, as is seen below, his refusal in fact to do what he falsely promised to do, namely to investigate the allegations properly … He did not even put to me a single question regarding any of these serious matters, which he claims to wish to investigate!”
“He stuck himself firmly on formalistic grounds. Extraordinarily, Mr. Meyer repeated that it is all ‘undocumented’, like a mantra to ward off evil! As if statements made by victims on film were not of ‘documentary’ status”.
When Minors Report Sexual Abuse Adults Must Heed and Act
Absurdly far out of line with contemporary public attitudes in more democratically advanced societies, some of Sai Baba’s leaders – like Thorbjörn, Meyer, Professor Peter Pruzan, Steen Piculell – have condoned Sai Baba’s practice of ‘oiling of genitals’ of young males. With absolutely no sanction from Hindu or any other religious authorities, Meyer calls this an “age old Indian anointing oil ceremony”.
It is important that Indian religious leaders speak out on this issue. But will they? Might one be too far out in guessing that they, like the various churches in the West have a great deal to cover up? Although he is not a religious authority, at least the reknowned Indian journalist and writer Khushwant Singh told the interviewer Tanya Datta in the BBC’s The Secret Swami (2004):
“There’s no Indian tradition to support the fact that, you know, worship of the Lingam includes also doing the blow job, if that is what you are referring to. I don’t think there’s any basis for that whatsoever”.
The Robert Priddy-Thorbjörn Meyer Email Exchange
In one of the emails, Priddy wrote to Meyer:
“Your cavalier attitude to ‘oiling’ overlooks the fact that any physical intrusion on genitalia without explicit consent beforehand – even by doctors – is a punishable offence in civilised countries!”
But Thorbjörn Meyer derides the accounts such as those of British musician and former Sai Baba university teacher and global ambassador David Bailey, which include genital oiling but extend far beyond it. Bailey had disaffiliated himself from perhaps the foremost role that Sai Baba has ever conferred on a Westerner. In replying to Priddy, Meyer spoke of “Bailey’s many second hand stories”, saying “Nothing of what Bailey writes is first hand. Nothing is confirmed, everything is blowing in the wind”.
Indeed, some individuals and families did go to leaders of the Sathya Sai Organization. They were, in country after country, shocked and mortified with the lack of humane (much less spiritual!) response.
To Defame Serious Second Hand Accounts of Sexual (and other) Abuse Is Wrong
Here is precisely the point at which Thorbjörn Meyer, together with many other Sai Baba devotees, departs from one of the greatest ethical imperatives. Accounts do not have to be other than second hand. It is entirely absurd to think that they should be. When a young person approaches an adult with a plea for help, citing sexual or other serious abuse, it is the duty of that adult to act on behalf of that individual, ensuring that the individual is accessed to a proper and professional proceedure.
This great responsibility is exactly what so many who are now former devotees have excercised – only to be shunned, ostracized, demeaned, and some threatened, and outrightly slandered.
To be sure, the Board of Church of Christ Grammar School, Perth, one of the leading private colleges in Australia did not cancel the Sai Baba national conference booked at its prestigious venue. However, the message to the conference of Garth Wynne, the Principal (who acted in handling the Sai Baba matter on behalf of the then Anglican Archbishop of Australia, Dr Peter Carnley) was this – as he himself told me: the accusations against your founder have kept on coming year after year. It puts an institution like ours, as well as your own organization, in a difficult position if you do not follow the appropriate procedures of investigation and accountability.
Failure of Duty of Care and Transparency
This failure of duty of care was the case of the now deceased leader in the USA, Dr. John Hislop, and has all along been so with Sai Baba’s foremost leaders such as Dr Michael Goldstein, Robert Bozzani, William Harvey, Phyllis Kristal, J. Jagadeeshan, T. Sri Ramanathan, and others. They were informed of ‘oilings’ and of worse sexual abuses. In purging the cult of those who raised voices of conscience, Meyer, Indulal Shah (then Sai Baba’s world coordinator) and Steen Picullel were responsible for evicting one of the finest leaders from organization, Serguei Badaev (Russia), just as was T. Sri Ramanathan in getting rid of Stephen Carthew (Australia). These fine men had raised absolutely proper and quintessential questions on matters of conscience.
The like reaction is duplicated by Sai Baba’s top leaders in various countries. For example, when I suggested the wisdom of instituting transparency and accountability processes to Sri T. Ramanathan, then head of Sai Baba’s organization in Australia, he replied that matters only need to go to him. After I had succesfully persuaded a number of foremost Australian religious and political religious leaders not to accept the Sathya Sai Organization’s invitations to appear at the 2003 national conference, Ramanathan phoned me on April 3, 2003 – first to sweet-talk me “I know that you’re a decent man”, and then to threaten legal action. He said “I have only one simple mechanism which I have applied down the years” which is to “deal with complaints personally.” “Your thinking is cloudy,” he said and stated that there was no need for a complaints mechanism in the Sathya Sai Organisation, which is “special and different to any other organisation… and a divine organisation”. (See, HERE and HERE).