Thursday, May 7, 2009

Another One Bites The Dust

Caught up in a romantic scandal, the Rev. Alberto Cutié has disappeared from public view for prayer and contemplation.

Caught by paparazzi in the tender embrace of a woman on a Florida beach -- is this how celebrity Catholic priest Alberto Cutié's meteoric religious and multimedia career crashes down to earth? (He can probably take some solace in the fact that most TV Evangelists manage to rise from the ashes of sexual scandal.)
Or does he emerge from a period of prayer and contemplation, humbled and chastened, renewing a vow of priestly celibacy he apparently violated -- and only recently publicly questioned?

It's Cutié's call.

In a brief telephone interview Wednesday, a day after he was relieved of his duties at his Miami Beach parish and the church's media arm, the internationally known priest and media personality said he was taking an indefinite leave for ``personal reflection.''

Cutié, who issued a public apology Tuesday, declined to identify his companion in the published pictures or talk about their relationship.

''It would be inappropriate. To protect that person it's best not to speak about that. It has been enough already. It has been too much for me and my family,'' Cutié told El Nuevo Herald, The Miami Herald's sister newspaper, for which he writes a weekly advice column.

Catholic Archdiocese officials said Wednesday that Cutié's future is in his hands.

''Father Alberto is taking time to pray; how he proceeds is totally his choice,'' said archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta. ``He is a member of the clergy and, therefore, the archdiocese will assist him in his prayerful journey.''

''This is a conversation between a priest and his archbishop, like a conversation between a father and a son,'' she said. ``Now Father Albert has some prayerful time ahead of him.''

Just last week, in an interview with a Spanish-language Miami TV station, Cutié endorsed giving Catholic priests the choice to marry. He told the interviewer from WSBS-TV's Paparazzi TV program, referring to church authorities: ``If they want to discipline me, let them discipline me, but I think the option would be better and healthier.'' (Perhaps he's already discerned his answer.)

Paparazzi TV producers said Tuesday that they had been offered the photos of Cutié on the beach for purchase, but turned the offer down.

On Wednesday, the disgraced Cutié and his so-far-unidentified companion were probably the most sought-after couple in South Florida, as copies of the Mexican magazine that published the compromising photos hit local newsstands. One particularly attention-grabbing shot shows Cutié reaching into his companion's swimsuit bottom.

The 40-year-old priest with youthful good looks and gelled hair remained in seclusion and off the air, while reporters fruitlessly tried to track down his female friend.

Cutié's mother offered no clues, declining to talk about her son at her South Miami-Dade home.
Throwing her hands up in the air, Yolanda Cutié said in Spanish, with a sigh: ''`Cosas de la vida.'' The expression roughly translates to ``Things happen.''

Some followers of Cutié were not so sanguine.

''I feel very bad for his parents,'' said Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, a parishioner at St. Patrick's church in Miami Beach, Cutie's one-time church. ``It's very hard on the community and the family. He's a young, intelligent man. How could he do that? It's a letdown for the community. It's a letdown for the people that love him.'' (Because he's a young intelligent man.)

But some parishioners, fans and celebrity friends emphatically defended Cutié on Wednesday. Next to his South Beach parish church, St. Francis de Sales, the doors of an apartment building kept swinging open as elderly women congregated outside to discuss the news.
This particular scandal is the news in Florida. It's not hard to see why. Fr. Alberto is not exactly unphotogenic. I wonder how many of those elderly women congregating to discuss this news secretly hope his anonymous partner is their daughter. Scandalous musing aside, I suspect there might be much more to this crisis of vocation than a good looking woman.
I've rarely run into priests who have strayed strictly because they couldn't keep their promise of chastity. There is a difference between of vow of celibacy and a promise of chastity. In theory a priest violating his promise of chastity is no different from a lay person. Marrying the person breaks the vow of celibacy and that is quite different. Had Fr. Alberto not been a priest celebrity Miami Catholics would be talking about something else entirely, as the 'offense' would more than likely have been an issue between Fr. Alberto and his confessor. Fame has it's drawbacks.
What I have experienced is priests who question their vocation do so at first for entirely different reasons, usually having nothing to do with celibacy. Sometimes it's a poor relationship with their bishop, estrangement from their fellow priests, a lonely posting, or a spirituality which is evolving beyond what they are expected to preach. There is usually some other serious disconnect before the eyes start to stray. The reason one never hears about this is that the Vatican usually only allows for dispensation from priestly vows for reasons of celibacy, not spiritual angst, loneliness, or problems with authority. Better it be a woman's fault than the Church's or a priest's failing. I appreciate that Fr. Alberto is keeping his partner out of the story because he seems to understand what ever the failing it's not hers.
I really hope this story helps move forward the discussion about dispensing with the vow of priestly celibacy. As Fr. Alberto is quoted as saying "making it an option would be better and healthier." I agree it would make the current priesthood better and healthier, but it would not answer the fundamental problems with the clerical and hierarchical system. It would in essence be nothing more than a band aid.
The real problem is a theology of priesthood which places the priest spiritually and religiously above the laity. Maybe that's the lesson that Fr. Alberto will take from his prayer and contemplation. That in reality his collar does not elevate him above his parishioners, just as in that same reality neither does his celebrity status. That's not just a humbling lesson, it's a critical spiritual lesson. It's not the clothes or ritual which makes the authentic priest, it's the mindset.
This is the biggest reason I don't much support the ordination of women. I don't actually see the point if the theology behind the priesthood stays the same. Changing the gender of the priest doesn't change the fundamental issues of separation (power) and control. Spiritual leadership should be a matter of authentic spiritual living. Our current seminary training more or less layers a monastic lifestyle on priests who are then expected to work in the real world. No one considers the monastery the real world. It's not designed to be. A relational style which works in the close quarters of a monastery, in which personal relationships are discouraged, does not work well in the real world.
It's not like the lack of priestly vocations isn't sending this message. It's more that those men who were trained in this system and devoted their lives to it, can't hear that message. I feel for Fr. Alberto and hope his period of discernment leads to serious self truth and that he continues to speak his truth. He won't be the first priest whose disciplined for speaking their truth, and I doubt he'll be the last.
There are a couple of other articles on Clerical Whispers today which deal with other priests who have been or are in the process of being excommunicated or disciplined. Fr. Peter Kennedy of St Mary's South Brisbane is about to be disciplined for starting St. Mary's In Exile, and Bishop Ohlmsted of Phoenix has excommunicated a second gay priest for signing up with the Reformed Catholic Church. That brings the total to three priestly excommunications in Phoenix.
In the meantime, the Diocese of Miami will ordain three priests this coming Sunday. Two are widowed Deacons past retirement age. I appreciate their willingness to take on such an assignment when most of their peers are fishing and golfing, but they too are part of the message.
If these two stories out of Miami are the future of the priesthood, the Sacramental Church is in serious trouble. I wish Pope Benedict all the best when he travels to the Middle East, but there is a big part of me that thinks it's time he looked at the state of his priesthood--for the sake of his entire Church.


  1. A question: from somewhere (where??) I vaguely recall something that leads me to believe that Fr.Cutie was in some way related to Opus Dei. Or the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross? Some sort of link.....

    I have no interest in 'beating up' on the poor man - he is only human. But from what little I know (your blog entry!) it would seem that his 'crime' was more of a public indescretion. Rather then literally violating his vows (i.e. sexual relations with her).

    Indeed, his vocation may be troubled. But this neither makes him 'damned' or anything of the sort.

    Now we know that MANY priests are guilty of far worse 'indiscretions' then this. They just were not caught on camera.

    This situation reminds me of the demise of another popular EWTN celebrity priest (with links to Opus Dei). A handsome & well spoken (though much older) priest: Msgr. Eugene Clark, former Rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral, NYC.

    Clark was 'taken down' a few years ago, retiring in disgrace, via a very well publicized (orchestrated?) media campaign. He was photographed in 'compromising" settings with his personal her private investigator husband(!) The pics were splashed all over the papers.

    While I neither support Clark nor Cutie....and do not presume to judge their actions (except for obvious stupidity!).....I see a similar pattern.

    The question is: "why"?

  2. This past Sunday, May 3, Good Shepherd Sunday, was also a special day of prayer for vocations, as we were told by our priest at our son's First Holy Communion mass. As my baby boy sat there, very holy indeed, so well behaved, waiting to receive the solemn miracle that is the Eucharist, our priest mentioned the need for vocations, and that some of the young men (and young ladies) present on this special day) may choose a vocation within the Catholic church, if they are so called. I thought about that briefly, and then prayed otherwise. Why? Because I would not want my son to have that kind of life, one without normal human relationships with a woman who would be his wife and with that of precious children. Not being raised as a Catholic, it is very hard to understand this "human response" the Pope seems to be calling for, when I find my response to be the much more human one.

    Don't get me wrong, if my son or one of my daughters came to me tomorrow and said that is what they wanted, I would support them in their efforts 100%, but I would so want them to examine everything about the life they are choosing, as well as the life they would be leaving behind.

    I think we all need to pray for Fr. Cutie and his family, and his "partner" that they all decide what to do next that is best for them.

    I agree with Anonymous--I'm sure there are many priests out there "guilty" of much worse, they just didn't get caught.

    It is shocking for the parishioners to be so hard on him--after all he is a priest--he is HUMAN! There is so much worse he could have done than be seen with a woman!

  3. I agree with you, Kiki. I would not want my children to be priests/nuns. That is because the church's record on respect for women and children is dismal, at best, and sinful at the worst. The institution espouses an unhealthy attitutde about human sexualtiy and it uses God to hide behind a multitude of sins, transgressions, and an evilness of its own.

  4. I do vaguely remember the story around Msgr Clark. Maybe the moral of the story is to stay off TV, unless you're Bishop Sheehan.

    If I had a son Kiki, I too would not be excited if he indicated he wanted to be a priest. There sure does seem to be a lot of loneliness and a huge work load. In many respects it's an artificial lifestyle with all kinds of closet issues when it comes to any kind of close personal friendships. The celibacy issue is just one of many issues which need to change.

  5. All I can say is that God has a sense of humor because this priest is a real Cutie...

    I hope that everything works out for Fr. Cutie pie (I just could not help myself).

  6. My daughter was standing over my shoulder when I posted this and she's like "Wow, is he a for real priest or an actor? He is hoootttt."

    I told her he was both!

  7. "I do vaguely remember the story around Msgr Clark. Maybe the moral of the story is to stay off TV, unless you're Bishop Sheehan."

    Fulton Sheen had his own issues.....but let's not go there. It is far better to pray for the souls of the departed then to criticize them. But some have suggested that to canonize him is more of a potential 'hot potato' the Newman........

    In Clark's case he had the peculiar baggage of being both the former personal secretary to the infamous Cardinal Francis Spellman, and of making loud & newsworthy condemnations of homosexuality from the pulpit of St. Patrick's Cathedral.

    Let's just say that "Karma" can eventually bite one in the backside:)

  8. Annonymous, it's interesting you bring up the canonization of Bishop Sheen. That's my opinion as well, that his canonization may take things into places better left alone.

    It's probably a good thing there is no real devil's advocate anymore---or a bad thing depending on whether one wants truth or spin.

  9. You are so right Anonymous! I didn't even want to get into my issues with how the church treats women.

    When visiting a nearby monastery (Benedictine Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama), my older daughter didn't want to leave. And she was 11 at the time! She loved the meditative atmosphere and the beauty of the place--and it fit her personality. She has a special connection with the Sister at our parish who is from there (they share names and many personality traits and talked for a long while). But I would always feel like she was wasting her gifts, although I am forever grateful to all Sister does for us at our parish, since the Benedictine Sisters are very active in their communities outside the monastery, of course). It isn't fair though, to be treated as a second class citizen of your own Church (ie the Catholic Church).

    Jesus certainly didn't treat the women he knew that way, from what I've gathered from scripture.

    I finally saw Fr. Cutie mentioned on the news this morning. He is a very good looking man, and his name certainly seems kind of funny, huh?

    I'm going to have to read up on Father Sheen. My husband grew up watching his television shows, and I have seen a few old re-runs on EWTN, but I am sadly ignorant of the movement to canonize him. I do know my husband always talks about what a "celebrity" priest he was.

  10. I have to keep referring to Sheen - not to beat a dead horse (no pun intended...) but as he is such a prime example.

    When we have a "TV priest" or other very prominent cleric/religious who is dead & being posited as a "saint" we enter dangerous waters. Because (regardless of merit) they out the for all to see - 'warts & all'. The personality flaws get very in the way - and very obvious.

    Compare that to a Padre Pio. He had flaws as we all have, but he was a private person - not a media star. So we focus on what he did - not a projected stage image.

    Surely when Mother Angelica dies EWTN will posit her as a 'saint'. Or Fr. George Rutler (shudder!). I could make a long list, but the point only becomes clearer: we are focussing on externals....not on the internal. What truly counts.

    Or then we have Fr, Michael McGivney, founder of the KOC. So....let me get this straight.....if you are a media star, or found a are automatically on the shortlist to sainthood? At best, this is very shallow thinking. At is worse then the sale of indulgences!

    For what it's worth - no, Sheen should not be considered. For reasons we have both hinted at.

  11. I couldn't care less if a priest has a relationship, unless the priest was being a hypocrite, such as Msgr. Eugene Clark was.

    As rector of St. Patrick's cathedral, he went out of his way to condemn gays as 'sinful' and unwelcomed.

    So I had to laugh when I read the details of Clark's affair with a married woman. When her teenage daughter caught them in a hot tub together, she told her daughter "this is what grownups do when they love each other." As I recall, there were also questions of misallocation of church funds. Guess Clark won't be up for canonization!

    One priest they should canonize is Father Mychal Judge, a true hand of Christ to the poor and forgotten. But this Vatican regime will never consider it because he was (gasp!) gay, though celibate. Even worse, he dared to publicly disagree with the Vatican's teaching on homosexuality, and as we all know, disobedience to Rome is the worst sin.

  12. Speaking of Padre Pio, I'd love it if his monastery would open up more of his personal writings. He was an incredible Catholic,--dare I say shaman--and I bet there is a lot of fascinating information in his journals.

    I think the trend to canonize all these folks was spurred by Escriva. It doesn't appear to be about personal worthiness anymore so much as it does about validating specific groups. You are totally on target about Mother Angelica. I find her story really fascinating, not so much from a spiritual perspective, but from a clinical perspective.

  13. Redtown, you are right on about Mychal Judge. I noticed that when Archbishop Dolan went to Ground Zero he failed to mention Fr. Mychal. I was pissed.

    I think there's hope for Fr. Judge in the canonization of Cardinal Newman. No matter how much they try to spin the relationship between Newman and John Ambrose, they can no longer cover up what Newman himself wrote.

  14. Colkoch, Actually Archbp. Timothy Dolan did mention Mychal Judge in his installation homily on April 15.

    According to the SaintMychalJudge website, Dolan said, "The Risen Christ is alive in consecrated religious, women and men, in whom Elizabeth Ann Seton, Frances Xavier Cabrini, and Mychal Judge find most worthy heirs, as you continue to give the Word flesh in your simplicity of life, charity, and obedience."

    Dolan said this within 24 hours of his also announcing he would lead the battle against gay marriage in NY. Go figure.

    The fact that they found Henry Newman's body so thoroughly decomposed with that of his beloved Ambrose suggests that God may have had the last word on that matter.

  15. That's interesting. I suspect the article I read concerning Dolan at ground zero was edited. I should have considered the source.