Reverend Alberto Cutie, the Catholic priest nicknamed “Father Oprah,” is once more in the news. If you haven’t heard this “Jerry Springer-worthy” saga, let me fill you in.
A popular priest in Miami, Father Alberto’s very private life made headlines when a gossip rag published photographs of him on the beach, kissing a bikini clad woman, later identified as 35 year old Ruhama Buni Canellis. Forced into the spotlight, the priest admitted to a longstanding affair with Canellis. Catholics everywhere were aghast.
If Father Alberto was shamed or humiliated, he hid it well. Quite comfortable in front of the television cameras, the priest gave several interviews, and declared that he did not want to become the poster child for the celibacy debate in the Catholic Church.
Rest assured, Father Cutie. You aren’t the symbol of needed change in the Catholic Church. You’re the symbol of selfishness and disgrace.
Father Alberto is confusing the issues. The question of whether Catholic priests should be celibate is not the same as whether the Catholic Church should initiate change to allow their clergymen to marry. Should Catholic priests be celibate? Yes! Why? Because they chose the priesthood, and if they weren’t going to abide by their vocation’s “rules,” they had no right to become priests in the first place. Rules are not made to broken. And selfish priests who preach God’s word from the pulpit, and break the “rules” in “real” life, should be defrocked.
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What did Cutie do when he was publicly challenged to live by the rules of his religion? He “switched collars,” and joined the more tolerant Episcopal Church, where clergy are permitted to marry. Unlike people who are moved by faith to change their religion, Cutie selfishly sought out the Episcopal Church because its “rules” would allow him to have his cake and eat it, too.
On the surface, Cutie’s leaving the Catholic religion for the Episcopal faith might seem to be the answer to his problem. But from where I stand, as a Catholic with a deep appreciation for the Episcopal Church, it seems a cop-out. In accepting him into their flock, the Episcopal Church has put an inadequate band-aid on a much larger problem.
Alberto Cutie chose to be a Catholic priest. And he chose to break his vows. His relationship with the woman in question was not a momentary lack of judgement, a quick dalliance he later regretted. It was a longstanding affair…a longstanding, freely chosen breach of the promise Cutie made to his Church, and to God. He chose to break his vows time and time again. The question now is not whether Cutie can effectively serve as a non-celibate priest (many Episcopal priests are not celibate, but let it be noted that these men are married, not sowing their wild oats), but whether he has the strength of character to serve the Episcopal Church with integrity, honesty, and faith.
I am not a Bible-thumping Catholic who elevates priests to sainthood, or believes sinners should be tossed into the fiery pit of hell. Quite the contrary. A priest, despite the collar, is human, subject to mistakes like the rest of us. And just like the rest of us, they must fix what they break, clean up their own messes, atone for their sins, and be forgiven. But in the case of Father Cutie, adopting another collar does not fix what is broken; it is merely the method the wayward priest chose to make his life fit into his faith. Becoming an Episcopalian does nothing to address his mistake. Does nothing to right the wrong. Does nothing to aid atonement.
I am saddened to hear that another Catholic priest has gone astray, and disappointed that the Episcopal Church has accepted Father Cutie. On May 31st, Cutie once again made headlines as his first sermon in an Episcopal Church was met by a standing ovation. This baffles me. Why on earth applaud a man who lived a lie, and grasped onto the Episcopal Church only when backed into a corner?
The whole thing is a mess. But the Catholic Church is better off without Alberto Cutie. “Father Oprah” is the Episcopal Church’s problem now.