By Eric Von Salzen
Shortly before we moved out of south Florida a year and a half ago, a big ecclesiastical scandal broke in the local press. A popular Roman Catholic priest, Father Albert Cutié, was caught by paparazzi necking on the beach with a young woman.
The son of exiles from Castro’s Cuba, Father Cutié was a well-known figure in the Spanish-speaking community, not only in south Florida, but throughout Latin America, as the host of religious-themed radio and TV programs; he was popular enough to have earned the nickname “Father Oprah”. His celebrity made his transgression a public event (his name didn’t help; although pronounced KOO-tea-eh, it was hard to resist calling him “Father Cutie”).
In short order, the Bishop of Miami suspended Cutié from his priestly and other duties and stopped his salary and benefits. The Episcopal Bishop of Southeast Florida, Leo Frade (himself a native of Cuba), extended an invitation to Cutié to continue his priestly vocation in the Episcopal Church, and Cutié accepted. He was received as an Episcopal priest and has been put in charge of a small parish in Miami. Father Cutié married the woman in the beach photos, and they have recently had a child. I have seen reports that he is soon to have his own TV show again, this time on Fox.
Father Cutié has now written a book about his experiences: Dilemma: A Priest’s Struggle With Faith and Love. It is well worth reading for its depiction of one individual priest’s experiences in the modern Roman Catholic Church.
When I first read the news accounts about Father Cutié being caught with a woman, and then about the speculation that he might join the Episcopal Church, my reaction was that it would have been better if Father Cutié had changed churches on his own initiative, instead of being forced to do so after he was caught in a compromising position. His book helped me see this part of Father Cutié’s dilemma from his own perspective. By the time he was caught by the paparazzi, Father Cutié was already deeply concerned about flaws in what he calls the “ideology” of the Roman Catholic Church, and he had been exploring the Episcopal Church as an institution that might be better suited to his views on religious matters as they had evolved since his ordination. But he found it very hard to make the decision to leave the Roman Catholic Church, in which he had grown up, and to which he had devoted his entire adult life. I found this part of his story quite convincing.
For me, the best parts of this book are Father’s Cutié’s stories about his experiences of the Roman Catholic Church from the inside, and his growing discomfort with certain aspects of the Church. Never having been a Roman Catholic myself – and certainly never having been a Roman Catholic priest – I can’t attest to whether what happened to Father Cutié was typical or aberrational, but as one man’s story it is compelling reading. He describes living in a world in which priests are isolated from their supposed spiritual leaders, and from each other; a world in which violations of the vow of celibacy are commonplace, but are tolerated so long as outsiders remain ignorant of them; in which those who run the organization care about their own power more than anything spiritual. This part of his story would make a good novel (I’m thinking more of a Marquand or Maugham novel than of Sinclair Lewis).
The last third of the book goes over these same issues, but no longer as part of a biography. Rather, we are given Father Cutié’s critique of the Roman Catholic Church today. The chapter names are enough to give you the flavor of his thoughts: “The Myth of Celibacy”, “Disposable Priests”, “The Church that Time Forgot”. To me, this part of the book was not as interesting as the biographical part, I guess because I don’t really care much about what’s wrong with a church to which I do not belong. The people that ought to read these things are the Roman Catholic hierarchy, but somehow I doubt that many of them will find Father Cutié a credible critic.
However, any Anglican that yearns for more centralized control in our Communion, who wants the Archbishop of Canterbury to become an “Anglican Pope”, who proposes to give enforcement powers to the “Instruments of Unity”, ought to read this book.