Friday, May 29, 2009

Fr Cutie: In The End The Woman Wins---And The Episcopalian Church

Father Alberto Cutié's leap of faith: New church, a plan to marry

The Rev. Alberto Cutié, the celebrity priest photographed nuzzling a woman on a Florida beach, has left the Catholic Church to join the Episcopal Church and marry his girlfriend -- a move that attracted a strong rebuff from Roman Catholic leaders.

While the Catholic Church requires priests to hew to a vow of celibacy, the Episcopalians, who broke from Rome in the 16th century, have no such rules. Cutié was formally welcomed into the Episcopal Church in a small, private ceremony early Thursday afternoon at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, the church's South Florida headquarters in downtown Miami.

''I am continuing the call to spread God's love,'' Cutié said after the ceremony, adding that he has gone through a ``spiritual and deep ideological struggle.'' (I suspect that's very true.)

In attendance at Trinity was Cutié's girlfriend, Ruhama Buni Canellis, 35, a divorced mother living in Miami Beach. It was the first public sighting of the couple since compromising photos appeared in a Mexican magazine early this month that led the telegenic cleric to take leave from his South Beach parish.

Cutié sat smiling beside Canellis during the half-hour ceremony. Deacons and former Catholic priests now in the Episcopal Church were by his side -- many notably accompanied by their wives.

Bishop Leo Frade, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida, officiated as Cutié and Canellis knelt in front of him to be received into the church.

''We recognize you as a member of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church; and we receive you into the fellowship of this communion. God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bless, preserve and keep you. Amen,'' Frade recited in Spanish.

At a news conference a few hours later, Archdiocese of Miami officials expressed disappointment in Cutié and had strong words for the Episcopal Church, especially Bishop Frade.
''This truly is a serious setback for ecumenical relations and cooperation between us,'' Archbishop John C. Favalora said. (How come it's not a serious setback to ecumenical relationships when it goes the other way?)

Favalora said he had not communicated with Frade about the transition and had not spoken with Cutié since May 5, adding that Cutié never told the archbishop he desired marriage.


''Father Cutié is removing himself from full communion with the Catholic Church and thereby forfeiting his rights as a cleric,'' Favalora said, later adding that Cutié is still ``still bound by his promise to live a celibate life, which he freely embraced at ordination. Only the Holy Father can release him from that obligation.'' (Dream on.)

Not so, Frade said Thursday afternoon. ''That promise is not recognized by our church. If you can find it in the Bible that priests should be celibate, that will be corrected,'' he said. ``The only thing we can say is that we pray for ecumenical relations. . . . I am sorry they are sorry, and we love them.''

Cutié, who gained media fame across the Spanish-speaking world doling out relationship advice on TV and radio and in print, had telegraphed his intentions for weeks in interviews, during which he spoke about his wish to marry and start a family.

After Thursday's ceremony, Canellis stood beside Cutié as he read a statement outlining his desire to continue serving God while enjoying the freedom to raise a family. Cutié took no questions, but referred to Canellis, a former parishioner whom he met in church, as his fiancée.

''With God's help, I hope to continue priestly ministry and service in my new spiritual home,'' Cutié said in a statement.

It will take Cutié at least a year to become a priest. But Bishop Frade made Cutié a lay minister, meaning he can preach in Episcopal churches but not celebrate the Eucharist, the sharing of the body and blood of Christ. Cutie will give his first sermon as an Episcopalian 10 a.m. Sunday at the Church of The Resurrection in Biscayne Park.


Cutié will play a key role in revitalizing struggling Episcopal churches, Frade said.
''He has a successful history of rebuilding churches'' said Frade, alluding to Cutié's success at turning around several troubled Catholic parishes, including his most recent church, St. Francis de Sales in Miami Beach. John Villafuerte, a member of that church, reacted with shock to the news about Cutié but said he was still behind the priest.

''I wish him the best. I will definitely miss him. A lot of us will miss him,'' said Villafuerte, 41.
Frade publicly invited Cutié to join the Episcopal church after scandal embroiled ''Padre Alberto'' -- as he is known to millions of Spanish-speaking followers -- for breaking his vow of celibacy. Frade said at the time that Episcopalians would have no problem with a single clergy member having a date on the beach.

The more-liberal Episcopal church considers itself the ''middle way'' between Protestantism and Catholicism. It ordains women and has an openly gay bishop.


I sort of suspected this is exactly the way this story would end: Love triumphs over the lack there of. I'm sure there will be some Catholics who might phrase that a little differently: Priest breaks solemn vows for lust and betrays the one true Church. It depends on whether one sees relationships such as Fr. Cutie's as a matter of love or sexual acts. If it was just a matter of sexual acts, Fr. Cutie would have done some penance and come crawling back to his Bishop. This must be love.

The thing about real love is it does change one's world view. It's supposed too. It's supposed to be an experience which takes you beyond the confines of a one person world view and opens you to the intimate experience of another person. When the very real physical immediacy of love crashes into the remoter esoteric experience of priesthood, something has to give. In this case it was the Roman Catholic priesthood of Fr. Cutie.

Like most of us, I doubt Fr. Cutie went out purposely seeking intimate relational love. It probably snuck up on him and before he knew it he was facing choices he never imagined he would have to make. Everything I've read about him says he was a dedicated priest. Exactly the kind of priest who would be blind sided by love. When he says experienced "a deep spiritual and ideological struggle", I don't think he's being dishonest. I think he's being truthful and that this struggle has been going on long time before the Paparazzi brought it to a head.

In the long run the outing will be good for his relationship. I can imagine he was doing a lot of fence sitting, unable to make a decision, caught in two worlds. Fritz Perls, the somewhat iconoclastic psychiatrist of the 60's and 70's coined a phrase for this: "It's when a person can't shit or get off the pot". Looks to me like Fr. Cutie has decided to do both.

I find the reaction of Bishop Favarola to be a little over the top. It must have something to do with Fr Cutie's high media profile. This particular defection hurts. It's one thing to suggest dissenting lay people find a more compatible self indulging church to belong to, it's a completely different thing when one of your best priests acts on that dismissive advice. In this case the Bishop must truly believe the Episcopalian gain is a Catholic loss. I suspect this is actually the truth and it may be that Fr. Cutie isn't going to be the only defector.

Maybe Fr. Cutie's story has a message in it. What if the Holy Spirit is saying that if your spiritual path dictates that obeying church authority, tradition, and literal sexual scriptural interpretation is your thing, go Catholic. That's your home. But if your spiritual path places a premium on experiential love and a less rigorous need for authority and dogmatic definition, go Episcopalian.

Should this prove to be true, there will be a lot of boats coming and going on the Tiber.


  1. I suspect that Fr Cutie's actions will have a ripple effect throughout the Catholic Church in the months to come.

    Ironic isnt it; the catholic church leadership is saying "get out, we dont want you anymore, but you still have to obey OUR rules". Many colorful epithets come to mind right now, but I will stick with "exactly what I expect from sexually repressed geriatric homophobes".

    That really sums up the absurdity of the RCC Leadership's twisted mentality and adds one more piece of evidence to the premise that "if the Vatican says it is right and good, then it probably isnt". (My personal mantra)

    Perhaps this will trigger a massive exodus of catholics who have been struggling with the twisted absurdity of the RCC leadership into congregations where they can be more fully nourished and supported spiritually. While no group or congregation is anywhere near perfect, as we have so often seen in the past 12 months alone, the Catholic Church seems hell bent on setting the fullest example of what christianity is NOT.

  2. Well, maybe the old men, and I mean really old men in Miami and the Vatican ought to say: "Yes, we will recognize the Episcopal Church as a legitimate rite within the Roman Church." Let the switching begin!

  3. I am wondering why it will take a year for Fr. Cutie to receive Communion, or did I read that wrong and he can receive, just not be the Celebrant?

  4. (How come it's not a serious setback to ecumenical relationships when it goes the other way?)Because the Catholic Church doesn't allow such occasions to become media events, out of respect for the Episcopal Church.

  5. Clayton, maybe not in so much in the States, but that's not at all true in the UK.

    Butterfly, I believe he can't say Mass for a year. He has to bone up on Anglican history and doctrine.

    Annonymous, that would be an interesting solution, but perhaps a very costly one.

  6. Clayton, if I read what you wrote correctly, you are stating that ecuminical relations is a function of media coverage ie, ecuminical relations are at their highest with the catholic church when there is no negative press coverage that embarasses the magisterial authorities?

    When there was mass defection of the homophobic episcopalean element into the catholic church it was not a problem for the ecumincal relations, but a positive step toward ecuminical unity. Now, with the flow going the other way, it is a serious setback.

    As I said, twisted absurdity and deception, which have been and continue to be the hallmark of the magisterial authorities in this country. Deception in that they continue to lie about their true intentions.

  7. COL55:

    Why do you assume the worst motives of church officials?

    The Episcopalian point of contact for ecumenical relations has gone on record saying HE was uneasy with the way things were handled:

    Favalora said his archdiocese "has never made a public display when, for doctrinal reasons, Episcopal priests have joined the Catholic Church and sought ordination ... I regret that Bishop Frade has not afforded me or the Catholic community the same courtesy and respect."

    Even Episcopalians say Favalora has a point. Bishop Christopher Epting, the Episcopal Church's point man for interfaith affairs, said Friday, "There's no written rule, but it's certainly been the informal understanding between all our ecumenical partners that it's not something one seeks headlines about. It doesn't help us ecumenically."

    There's a delicate diplomacy to conversions, with long-established protocols to ensure that interfaith bridges that take decades to build are not burned in a single afternoon. Epting said the Episcopal Church's ecumenical office, which is usually consulted on all conversions, was not informed about the ceremony ahead of time.

    "I wish we had been consulted," Epting said. "We will be pursuing this." (source)

  8. Clayton, don't you think that if Fr. Cutie didn't have such a high media profile that the usual channels would have been followed.

    I don't quite understand why Cutie never contacted Bishop Favarola after May 5th. I kind of wonder what that says about their relationship. That to me is the real breach of protocol in that Cutie himself sandbagged Bishop Favarola.

  9. colkoch,

    Perhaps. One hopes. Although it seems that the Episcopal bishop (Frade) is more interested in growing his congregation than in ecumenical concerns. See his comments in today's Miami Herald.

  10. Clayton, you asked, "Why do you assume the worst motives of church officials?"

    Very simply, they have a very public record that demonstrates their "worst" motives. The pedophile coverup, the 2008 election, the Irish fiasco, Notre Dame, gay bashing, and attempted extortion and bribery of public officials to name a few. There is ample public evidence to support the premise that the one thing RCC leadership can be counted on to do is the wrong thing.

    Admittedly, this may only be a percentage of the total, however, the silence of the remainder is still implied consent for these actions, which in my personal opinion makes them equally guilty.

  11. At Pentecost Sunday services, RC Archbishop John C. Favalora's letter was read to parishioners --

    “Father Cutie’s actions have caused grave scandal within the Catholic Church, harmed the Archdiocese of Miami — especially our priests — and led to division within the ecumenical community and the community at large.”

    Amazing the archbishop can say this with a straight face.

    "Grave scandal?? Just look at what's happening in Ireland now. Makes the US clergy abuse scandal look mild by comparison. Everything he accuses Fr. Cutie of doing is being done a thousand fold by the institutional Roman church.

  12. "An argument that has been advanced in favor of priestly celibacy suggests that the person who is not committed to one woman or set of children is free to love all. This should be seen as nonsense. It should not be necessary to point out that if cannot love one woman or child in the flesh, you can’t love anyone , much less everyone. I do not mean at all that celibates cannot love deeply, but this argument won’t do. Celibacy is a form of fasting from something good, not a freedom from the limitations of loving a particular person. And the associated argument from practicality – an unmarried priest can spend more time on ministry – has two sides. On the one hand, I have not in fact found celibate priests to be harder working or more dedicated than the married Orthodox priests I know. Frankly, some celibates seem adolescent in their approach to their schedules, regarding their time as their own, and resent interruptions in a way that most parents learn to drop after the first child or two. The other side of the question is the possibility that if a married priesthood increased the number of available priests, the celibate priests who are now stretched thin on the ground might not be burning out so frequently – though burnout is also a problem for Orthodox priests, for Protestant ministers, and for rabbis. … One practical question is often brought up: could the average Catholic parish afford a married priest, with his family’s needs? It isn’t easy, but it should be noted that most of the parishes in the Orthodox Church in America are relatively small – from one hundred to 300 families – and that while most are not wealthy, they manage."

    (John Garvey, “Priests Should Be Married”, Commonweal, August 12, 2005.)

    Jim McCrea

  13. "Celibacy is a form of fasting from something good, not a freedom from the limitations of loving a particular person."

    Shoot, I always thought it was about the avoidance of something bad :)