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In Theory: Celibacy and church scandal

Burbank Leader

The Vatican has reaffirmed that the cause of sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church has nothing to do with celibacy. Others see celibacy (and according to one cardinal, homosexuality) as a reason priests abuse in the first place. Do you believe celibacy is the root cause of this scandal, or could there exist other causes that haven’t been addressed yet? How are celibacy and its challenges addressed within your religious ranks, if it is mandated? Celibacy is a charism: a gift from God.

As with all gifts, God offers it freely, and we either freely accept or not. It is up to the individual. The individual needs to discern whether this is his/her calling, and if it is, then they decide to accept the gift of God. God then strengthens them with his grace to live a life in accordance with the nature of the gift.

The charism of celibacy is a positive gift. There is nothing negative about it. It has to do with the fulfillment of the two great ccommandments: Love God with your whole heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. Celibacy frees one to love fully in Christ and in the manner in which Christ loved.

True celibate love is self-sacrificing love. True celibate love is not about eros, but about agape. The true celibate is one whose life is poured out in love for others. There is no greed here. There is certainly no lust. There is absolutely no room for deviance.


Those who use love for their own benefit and pleasure cannot be true celibates, whether they carry the name or not. They are living totally contrary to the very nature of celibacy. They are living for themselves and not for others. They are to be pitied, forgiven and helped to move to an unselfish relationship with Christ and with others.

Celibacy is not for everyone. Just as the rich young man is the Gospel could not accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him because he had many possessions, so too many who are invited to live a celibate life cannot accept the invitation for any number of reasons.

Notice that the rich young man was not condemned for his non-acceptance; nor will they be who cannot accept the gift of celibacy.



St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church


My understanding of sexual abuse is that it has less to do with desire for sexual contact (whether heterosexual or homosexual) than it does with desire to exert power.

Whenever and wherever sexual abuse occurs, it is a travesty. When it is enacted upon the youngest, most vulnerable among us, by those entrusted with the care of their souls, it is particularly abhorrent.

I do recognize that celibacy can — when freely chosen — be a valid life choice and/or a vital spiritual practice.

However, I do not consider it necessary in living a spiritual life. In fact, it removes those who take such vows from grappling with some of the most beautiful and complex of human experiences and relationships, thereby inhibiting one natural avenue toward spiritual growth.

Nor, as indicated, do I believe that celibacy is a “root cause” of sexual abuse.

If hunger for power is indeed at the root of sexual abuse, then all institutions (not just those identifying as religious) would be well served to examine their power/authority structures; to define and insist upon healthy boundaries, rigorous standards of safety and systems of accountability.


Unitarian Universalism, as a covenanted faith, is built upon creating and nurturing environments that are physically, emotionally and spiritually safe for all — to encourage freedom in one’s spiritual journey.

Along those lines most of our congregations are actively involved in “Safe Congregation” programs providing covenants and codes of ethics; clear procedures, policies and workshops in order to explore the complex social issues of interpersonal violence and abuse; safety and risk management assessment tools; comprehensive sexuality education curricula; and responsible staffing tools.


Unitarian Universalist Church

of Verdugo Hills

La Crescenta

The Roman Catholic Church is deliberately overlooking the obvious.

Human beings are sexual creatures; we wouldn’t be here if that weren’t so. God created sex, called it “good,” and commanded we experience it by filling the earth. He ascribed no special holiness to deniers of this God-given nature exercised in God-designed contexts, and he nowhere mandated that only eunuchs qualify as clergy. Besides, how is it better to be unfamiliar with what is part-and-parcel of every parishioner’s normal existence?


Saint Peter had a wife; Jesus healed his “mother-in-law” (Matthew 8:14-15 NIV), and St. Paul said “We have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles (1 Corinthians 9:5 NIV). So celibacy wasn’t even modeled for us by Christ’s personally ordained leaders!

This said, it doesn’t explain why deprived, heterosexual, religious men would assault underage boys, and most of these abuse cases involve young teenage boys, not generally small children or girls. That would make these not generally heterosexual pedophile cases, but instances of hebephilia or ephebophilia. These are perversions of heterosexuality in that they’re homosexual, and worse because they prey upon minors.

How would celibacy rules contribute to an environment where this occurs? Consider that unstable men, struggling with their own sexual disorders, may seek out such rigid regulation to restrain themselves. If all sex is forbidden, then they won’t be having perverted sex, right? The problem is, they wind up in all-male institutions with like-minded seminarians, and a sort of conspiracy occurs. Then they’re assigned parishes replete with endless stables of altar boys. Cycle complete.

I say, have the pope go sit on his chair, agree with God, then make an ex cathedra pronouncement affirming what Catholics already know — that God doesn’t forbid ministers marriage, and that the age of pederast priests is over.


Montrose Community Church

I fail to see how celibacy alone can be the cause for sexual indiscretions within the Catholic church. If that were so, how do we account for the sexual indiscretions of countless married pastors and ministers who are tempted beyond their marriage bed and who put their morality and relationship with God aside to delve into the pit of sin that destroys lives and ministries?

We are sexual beings. God created us as such. An oath does not dampen the humanity we all embody or the inherent desires we experience.

If it were celibacy alone that tempted man to sin sexually, why would it have to be within the confines of molestation? Why not take it out into the streets and engage in prostitution or fornication of other natures?

While it is true that those who abuse children, I am speaking of pedophiles, do lurch toward opportunities — and do not often go looking for them — it is also true that man can be tempted to engage in sexual relations when an oath has been taken and the occasion presents itself.

As a Protestant, we do not practice celibacy in the ministry.

But that does not mean that sexual temptation is not employed and the destruction of sex outside of wedlock experienced.

Humans are sexual by nature, and while sex itself is not a sin, sexual sin does occur, and it is just that. Sexual sin is so named because it occurrs outside the covenant of the marital vows.

In my opinion, it is as simple as that.


La Vie Counseling Center


Our understanding of the Bible allows for clergy marriage. The Apostle Peter was married. Jesus healed his mother-in-law. Though unmarried, Paul defended his (and others’) right to be accompanied by a wife: “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?” (1 Corinthians 9:5).

One of the biblical qualifications of a pastor is that he must be “the husband of one wife” (Titus 1:6), which literally means “a one-woman kind of man.” Marriage isn’t a requirement for the pastoral office, but faithfulness in marriage is.

I believe that requiring clergy celibacy creates an unnecessary burden. Certainly the Apostle Paul saw his celibacy as an advantage, as his unmarried state allowed him greater time and flexibility for ministry. And that’s true for many today.

“But,” Paul added, “if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn” (1 Corinthians 7:9).

Physical intimacy in marriage is God’s outlet for our natural sexual desires. And apart from the issue of suffering undue temptation, in all cases celibacy prevents church leaders from addressing marriage and parenting issues on a first-hand basis.

Now, is celibacy the root cause of clergy sexual abuse? No. Jesus said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man " (Matthew 15:19-20).

Sexual abuse goes far beyond the natural desire for intimate physical contact that most of us feel. The abuser’s healing process must include being born again through faith in Jesus’ blood and the work of the Holy Spirit to create in them a clean heart. Rev. JON BARTA

Valley Baptist Church


Celibacy may not be the direct cause of the abuse — its lapse is sexual activity with consenting adults, whether gay or straight, not the predatory abuse of children. But it may play a significant role in the conditions and climate that enable abuse.

It seems that the Roman Catholic priesthood is falling through a downward spiral of desirability as a vocation. Its recruiting crisis is well-documented. The brightest and best are saying no to it, leaving bottom-feeders, pedophiles among them, to step into the void.

Celibacy aside, there are deal-breaker challenges to Catholic priesthood in this era. My own tradition’s professional wisdom says that the desirable ratio of priests to parishioners is one priest for every 150 members of a church. (Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” gives the same figure as the maximum number for any one leader’s face-to-face interactions, before an organization has to be restructured.) The latest statistic I heard is that in the Catholic church, the ratio of priests to lay people is around 1 to 2,000. That means, in effect, that Catholic priests can be little more than sacramental machines, rushing from Masses to weddings to baptisms to funerals in an endless cycle, waving their holy hands. Of necessity, all the other nonsacramental work of the church is done by lay people. So Roman priests don’t very often get to do things like prayer groups and Bible studies and pastoral counseling and spiritual direction — all the things that replenish both the spirit and the humanity of a priest — much less go bowling or play Scrabble.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that some of those entering the priesthood in such a climate are those amenable to a life of isolating authority and soul-altering lack of regular interpersonal connection. Add celibacy to that mix, and it’s even less surprising that sexual predators-to-be are slipping through the net of ordination, alongside those who are genuinely called and gifted for priesthood.

I sure wish we’d start hearing fewer defensive denials from the Catholic church, and more about proactive measures being taken to ensure the emotional stability of its priests.


St. George’s Episcopal Church La Cañada