Caught up in a romantic scandal, the Rev. Alberto Cutié has disappeared from public view for prayer and contemplation.
BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI, GERARDO REYES AND JAY WEAVER
BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI, GERARDO REYES AND JAY WEAVER
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.