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.

REV. RICHARD ALBARANO

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church

Burbank

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.

REV. STEFANIE ETZBACH-DALE