Friday, May 29, 2009

A Quick Read on the Miami Scandal

In my 35 years as an Episcopalian, I have known--and known of--several men who were ordained in the Roman Catholic Church and were later received into the Episcopal Church as priests. In every one of these instances, to my knowledge, Cupid was a major player, to the extent that, without his presence, the move wouldn't have happened. Every one.

Most of these clergy have served with competence, even distinction. A few have been problematic. At least three that I am aware of have "re-swum" the Tiber in the other direction (though, having left and then married, not been offered access to the Pastoral Provision). As one who is himself called to the vocation of marriage, I am unable to work up a high degree of empathy for what it might feel like to embrace a call to celibacy. Consequently, I have tended to have great sympathy and compassion for those who feel themselves called to both ordination and marriage, and glad, for their sakes, to be part of a church that allows them to respond to both vocations.

At one level, yesterday's announcement that Father Alberto Cutie (OK, I know my inability to put an accent on the final letter of his last name only accentuates the snicker quotient of the whole episode) has joined the Episcopal Church is just one more vessel in the familiar stream. (For the record, I am more than amply aware that there is a parallel stream flowing the other direction, though obviously for different reasons; I know my share of voyagers in that one as well.) 

Yet, there is an unsavory aura surrounding the news that I find quite unfortunate, and unsettling. Fr Cutie is a local celebrity in Miami. He is fluently bilingual and was a charismatic media figure on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church in south Florida, particularly among the Cuban-American community. At the press conference held at Trinity Cathedral on the occasion of his reception into TEC by Leo Frade, Bishop of Southeast Florida, he insisted that this was not a quick decision, but the result of a months-long discernment process. 

I have no knowledge, of course, of what is actually in the man's heart and mind. I'm going to assume that he's telling the truth. But he certainly has a PR problem with regard to his credibility. Few will doubt that the timing of his swim up the Thames to Canterbury was influenced, if not determined, by the tabloid photos that appeared barely a couple of weeks ago, showing him amorously involved with the woman who is now his fiance. 

Then there's the matter of the way he left the Roman obedience. It has the character not of a discerned transition, but a sudden defection. His now former bishop is understandably not amused, and has declared the incident a setback to ecumenical relations between the two involved churches. On a local level, at least, this can scarcely be doubted. Sadly, a high emotional level has led to a rhetorical shouting match between the respective bishops. In my opinion--this time not very humble--Bishop Frade has misplayed the hand he was dealt, not very subtly condemning the very notion of a rule of celibacy for clergy, and asserting Anglican practice in this regard as inherently superior. I'm more than happy to be in an ecclesial tradition that allows clerical marriage. But I do not consider myself either qualified or entitled to sit in judgment over another communion that, for reasons their leaders consider compelling, embrace a different discipline. The sort of exchange that has ensued between the two bishops is never salutary.

I wish Fr Cutie well in his new life as a married man, and--fairly soon, one presumes--as a priest in the Episcopal Church. I wish for him what I wish for any celebrity--that he be left alone by the media, both secular and religious. I also hope that both he and his new diocese resist any temptation to exploit this transition as an opportunity for Episcopal "evangelism" among his fan base. It is manifestly not that.

10 comments:

Garwood Anderson said...

Fr. Dan,

That is very well said. Thanks for your thoughtful commentary.

Garwood Anderson

Bruce Robison said...

Yes, thanks Dan. It's what I was trying to get at the other day, but much better said.

Bruce Robison

Malcolm+ said...

A little free PR counsel for Fr. Citié. (BTW, alt+130=é)

As it stands, it appears that his decision was motivated less by finding himself possibly called to the married state than by finding himself in the paper. Whether that is the case or not, it looks that way.

The most effective way to set aside this appearance would be to produce some sort of documentation of discussions between F. Cutié and Bp Frade that predate the tabloid photos.

All that said, my usual experience has been that Roman priests who come our way are usually received as priests. The fact that we have effectively laicized Cutié - at least temporarily - seems very curious.

Xico said...

Thanks Dan,
Very wise comment.
I hope his option could be motivated by a sincere will to put his gift to follow the Gospel and not only to adequate himself to a new audience!

Anonymous said...

"I wish for him what I wish for any celebrity--that he be left alone by the media, both secular and religious. I also hope that both he and his new diocese resist any temptation to exploit this transition as an opportunity for Episcopal "evangelism" among his fan base. It is manifestly not that."

Mr. Cutie was immediately scheduled to preach this Sunday at a Miami parish where the bishop had already planned a diocese-wide outreach event to support that struggling church. This was all in the press release concerning Cutie's reception into the Episcopal Church. Diocesean clergy were given email notice to be prepared for an influx of eager visitors into their own parishes owing to the "enthusiastic support" they've received in regard to Cutie's reception.

J. A. Frazer Crocker, Jr. said...

Dan,
I have known a couple of RC priests who left that discipline, worked in the secular world for a number of years, THEN got married, found their way into the Episcopal Church, and then (in one case after two years as Senior Warden) were received as clerics in the Episcopal Church.

Pedes Christi said...

Good post, Fr. Dan.

I find this whole episode sad, and a little disturbing. On Fr. Cutié's side, the discipline in the Roman catholic church regarding celibacy is in disarray, which I do not doubt contirbuted to the problem. However, TEC does not come out looking good either. For for the Latin Church the kinds of structures that were in place when celiibacy became universal, where the clergy were all either religious, or the equivalent of clerics regular, has been undermined over the centuries, most dramatically in the last century. I fear that too many men are ordained without proper discernment and without having attained the emotional maturity needed to make such a decision—there is a reason monastic orders require one to discern his vocation for years before making the kind of perpetual vows of celibacy that these men make sometimes after only a few years of living a not very rigorous life. The ancient rule of the Church that one should be in a stable permanent state of life for some years before receiving major orders and of a certain age (25 for married persons, 30 for religous, if memory serves) is a good one, and I can testify from personal experience of the difficulties caused by not following it, and being ordained too young and immature. It seems to me less of an issue of mandatory clerical celibacy, than of being mature enough to live out the state in life to which one is called—and, perhaps most importantly, to be able keep one's promises, whether as married or celibates! We need priests who are presbyteroi, elders in the faith, and have the maturity both to be of real spiritual use to their flock, and to avoid the kinds of sin and scandal that can do immense damage to peoples' faith and to the Church's mission to preach the saving and healing power of Jesus Christ.

The young fogey said...

Fair-minded and well-written, Father.

To be fair to Bishop Frade he didn't instal Mr Cutié (functionally he's a layman for now) straightaway as an Episcopal priest which of course he could have done. One can even see the year or two off as a kind of penance.

To be fair to Mr Cutié, as becoming an Episcopalian excommunicates him from Rome anyway, he probably didn't think the honour and courtesy of asking for a release from his obedience to his old bishop (including the celibacy vow) were worth the bother.

This attractive couple are natural outlaw folk heroes.

That said... this is not about romance, sex or clerical celibacy.

What galled me was that this man obviously with problems keeping his word especially to his bishop and church would even be considered by another Christian bishop for ministry under him.

Of course I may be wrong but I don't think for a second Mr Cutié would have risked his standing among Hispanics by becoming an Episcopalian if he didn't get caught.

Also... how much of this is really about a call to minister (and possibly be married) and how much a charismatic, perhaps vain man wanting to keep his celebrity status as a priest?

The young fogey said...

I have known a couple of RC priests who left that discipline, worked in the secular world for a number of years, THEN got married, found their way into the Episcopal Church, and then (in one case after two years as Senior Warden) were received as clerics in the Episcopal Church.

Still not right according to Rome of course but there the Episcopalians and the men involved were acting with integrity. One doesn't have to agree with them to respect them.

Anonymous said...

RE: "I also hope that both he and his new diocese resist any temptation to exploit this transition as an opportunity for Episcopal "evangelism" among his fan base."

How would you recommend that Bishop Frade do Episcopal evangelism, given his theology, other than through events such as these?

Seems the best they can do, and given that, they're going to pursue it with gusto.

I personally don't think it will have much effect, long-term, on the diocese's plummeting numbers . . . but we'll see.



Sarah