Remember Father Alberto Cutie, a.k.a. “Father Oprah”? He was the, ahem, “hunky” and popular Miami priest and media personality who was caught in some rather compromising tabloid photos gallivanting on a beach with one of his parishioners. It was a big scandal at the time — it even made the New York Times. Well, guess what — he’s back!
Cutie is now married to that parishioner, the two have a child and he’s now an Episcopal priest. And for our purposes, he’s got a book out about his ordeal that’s generating a fair amount of media coverage.
His regional fame notwithstanding, a major reason why Cutie’s story blew up was that issues of celibacy in the Roman Catholic church have been under a good deal of scrutiny as a result of the ongoing pedophilia scandals. While there were a few things to be desired about the coverage of Cutie’s initial indiscretion, tmatt noted at the time that the rule of celibacy was treated as a serious issue with two opposing sides by some important news outlets.
Sadly, I don’t know if that can be said about this latest round of coverage. Book publicity is typically not the most in-depth journalism, but in dealing with such a sensitive religious debate you’d hope for even a cursory effort to provide some balance. No such luck with this ABC News report, “Father Albert Cutie Lashes Out at Catholic Church“:
Although he still holds some resentment toward the Catholic Church, Cutie is now an Episcopal priest, which allows him to keep his marriage. Cutie told “GMA” that celibacy was not for him, and is not for most clergy members.
“Celibacy works for some priests some of the time, but it does not work for most priests most of the time.”
Many faiths, including Jewish, Muslim, Protestant and Orthodox Christians, allow their religious leaders to marry, but Roman Catholic priests are required to stay single and celibate.
As a religious matter, I don’t support the Catholic Church’s teaching on celibacy and am not at all inclined to defend it. But as a journalist, the ABC News report is regrettable puffery, with little beyond Cutie lobbing unanswered charges of hypocrisy at Rome over celibacy. I realize this appears to be a quick and dirty write-up of his Good Morning America appearance, but still. It’s mighty generous of Cutie not to hold any resentment toward Catholicism for breaking his own vows he made to the church. And as tmatt noted of the Cutie coverage last time around, it’s not technically correct to say that Catholic priests are required to remain single and celibate. There are a few married priests are ordained by Rome. There are married priests in Eastern Rite Catholicism, as well as a few former Anglican and Lutherans ordained as priests even though they were married.
To be fair to Cutie, he appears to be a bit more self-critical than ABC News would suggest. Time does a much better job of probing Cutie’s motivations:
In an interview with TIME, Cutie admits that “I not only disappointed others but also myself” by leading a double life as famous pastor and furtive paramour. Yet most Catholics, who continue dealing with crises like clerical sexual abuse of minors, shrugged at his indiscretion; and Cutie just as rightly notes that “there are much bigger problems in the church” than his otherwise healthy relationship with a consenting adult. Cutie’s tell-all saves its harshest censure not for the gossip rags (which he all but thanks for outing him) but for the Catholic hierarchy’s retro hypocrisies — especially celibacy, which he posits, based on a flood of letters he’s since received from priests, is a promise broken by many if not most clerics (some promiscuously) as they combat the loneliness it can breed. The church is “disconnected from the very people it was meant to serve,” he writes, and it acted more distressed by his peccadillo than by “the truly criminal, outrageous and blatantly immoral behavior” of pedophile priests.
Cutie critics will argue that he’s attacking the church to deflect attention from, if not to rationalize, his own dishonest actions — and that he stayed in the priesthood as long as he did because he was as much in love with his talk-show renown as he was with his covert girlfriend, Ruhama Canellis, now his wife. But Cutie, who insists “celebrity is not essential to who I am,” writes in Dilemma that he instead felt boxed in by his notoriety. Because Latino Catholics admired “Padre Alberto” in the 2000s as much as U.S. Catholics admired Bishop Fulton Sheen in the 1950s, “I knew that if I left the church for this woman, I would shake the faith and trust of many, many people. I couldn’t make myself do that yet.”
Time at least acknowledges that Cutie could be seen as engaged in excessive of rationalization. I just wish they could make this point in a much less dismissive fashion than “Cutie’s critics will argue…” While Time‘s report is thankfully much more nuanced than a shameless book plug, I still get the feeling that a fair presentation of the issues was an early casualty.
To the credit of the AP, in their brief story they didn’t just act as a Cutie stenographer or conjure up what they think the Catholic response to Cutie’s accusations would be:
The 41-year-old says church leaders secretly accept homosexual and heterosexual relationships among priests but disapproved of his because it became public.
“There are so many homosexuals, both active and celibate, at all levels of clergy and Church hierarchy that the church would never be able to function if they were really to exclude all of them from ministry,” Cutie writes.
The Archdiocese of Miami and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declined comment Monday.
Cutie calls former Archbishop John Favalora “an aloof CEO” with a “cold and rigid approach” who was “disconnected” from the parish. He said the two rarely spoke during the scandal.
A phone listing for Favalora could not be found.
Well, I’m glad they tried. But even if all the immediate players were not available for comment, surely there are some important Catholic voices out there that would have something interesting to say about Cutie’s charges of hypocrisy. They deserve to be heard. As always, let us know in the comments if you see any other stories about Cutie that are worth noting — especially any good coverage.