LOCAL PRESS: Celibacy & Clergy Sexual Abuse

The following was written in response to a question posted by the In Theory section of the Valley Sun, Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader regarding connections between clergy sexual abuse and celibacy.  Do you believe celibacy is the root cause, or could there exist other causes that haven’t been addressed yet?

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 mutual freedom for each person’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.

While these programs do not guarantee that the “unthinkable” will never happen, they do serve as constant reminders of our individual value, worth, and mutual responsibility.

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