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Monday, November 30, 2015

Tis the Season for Catholic Merriness...

"Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There's always laughter and good red wine.
At least I've always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!"

- Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), is considered among the greatest of English authors, poets and men of letters of his time, along with H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw and G.K. Chesterton. The son of a wealthy French lawyer and an English mother, Belloc was born in France.  His family was forced to flee to England due to war.  He became a naturalized British subject in 1902 and served as a member of Parliament several years later.  His deep-seeded Catholic faith heavily influenced much of his works, which included children's stories, poetry, books and essays on everything from faith, love, morality and humor to warfare, history and politics.  His Catholicism was uncompromising and he was known for his debating skills. Belloc was a friend and collaborator of Chesterton, another Catholic writing giant.  Their collaboration was coined by Shaw as "Chesterbelloc."      

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Celebrity Priest, Pride and Prejudice...

Alberto Cutie...
In 2009, Fr. Alberto Cutie was a rising star within the Catholic Church.  He was a young, articulate, charismatic and good-looking priest, whose warm and charming personality made him popular among the young and old alike.

Having hosted an Oprah-style TV show, that reached millions in the United States, Canada and Spain, he was a media favorite; the go-to guy for anything having to do with Catholic Christianity.

He was making speaking and emceeing engagements, rubbing elbows with celebrities and the movers and shakers of South Florida and had amassed a faithful and loyal following.

In his day job, he was also the pastor of a growing parish in Miami Beach, the President and General Director of Miami's Catholic radio station and was a published author.  In effect, whether intentionally or not, he had become a "celebrity priest," despite the oxymoron.

Moreover, he was a staunch defender and promoter of Catholic orthodoxy.

Although, still young, his future was bright and a bishopric in some distant future would not have been out of the question.

Then came the fall.  Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he ate from the forbidden fruit; getting caught in compromising photos with a woman on the beach.

It was a scandal of seismic proportions that made national and international headlines on the heels of the priest sex scandal that had rocked the Church leadership to its core.

Soon more photos and videos surfaced, showing the priest frolicking late into the night at South Beach bars and restaurants with his love interest, Ruhama Buni Canellis, as the Church hierarchy scrambled frantically to figure out how to deal with this public relations nightmare.  The once shooting star came crashing down hard.

And, then, it got worse.

Instead of opting out, as many had done before him (albeit most of lesser notoriety than Cutie), and gracefully stepping down from his ordained vocation to get married and continue to practice his faith as a layman, like a husband who cheats on his wife and then blames her for doing it, he doubled down and went on the offensive against the Church.

Breaking away...
He denounced the Church's discipline of priestly celibacy and, in a carefully orchestrated media event, apropos for a man who apparently relished the public limelight, he publicly and defiantly joined the Episcopal Church, saying afterwards that he would continue to serve as a priest for Christ in the Anglican fold, and a month later marrying Canellis.  (It is ironic, or maybe not so, that he would choose the U.S. arm of the Church of England, since it was a faith started by a man, King Henry VIII, who also wanted to make his own rules when it came to marriage!)

In any event, today, almost seven years later, Alberto Cutie is now an Episcopalian priest and Rector, serving a small parish, St. Benedict's (named after a Roman Catholic monk known for his "rules" for spiritual balance and moderation), which is several miles north from St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, where he once pastored. But, more than that, he is a husband and father.  And, despite the distance from his past, the wounds from his life in the Catholic Church, where he was raised and formed, apparently haven't completely healed.

Cutie was recently featured in a series of reports on the local TV station I work at and, even though he was visibly happy as a priest and family man, claiming he was living the "abundant life," his prejudice and antagonism against the Church, he once strongly defended, was evident.

Aside from blasting Pope Francis for visiting Fidel Castro and calling Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski a liar, he compared the Catholic Church with Cuba's repressive government, "People make decisions. My parents left Cuba because they couldn't live in a communist dictatorship.  And, I was living in a spiritual dictatorship because that is what the Catholic Church is; a spiritual dictatorship, where they tell you, it has to be done like this or you're out."  He added, "I have many friends and love many people in the Catholic Church but I lived within a dictatorship, where there was no freedom to do things that are part of humanity."

To me, it's ironic (There's that word again!).  Nobody, not the Pope, not the Church, not anyone, forces or coerces a man to become a priest. He does so because he feels a calling by God and responds under his own free will.

It takes about nine or ten years to discern a vocation to the priesthood (4 years of college followed by 5-6 years of seminary), where the men have to ask themselves over and over again in prayer, if this is really what God wants for them and whether they are willing to make the sacrifice and commitment it takes for the rest of their life.  Many are called but few are chosen.  Some leave along the way.

So, I wonder, at what point did it become a dictatorship for Cutie?  Was it in the third year of seminary? Was it during the fifth year? Was it after ordination, or two, five or ten years into the priesthood?

The family guy...
He was a Catholic priest for almost fourteen years!  Couldn't he have figured it out somewhere along, let's just say, in the first five to ten years or so, that the priesthood and all that it required, was not for him?  But, I guess, it's easy for me to throw stones from the outside.  Maybe, and I don't mean this as a jab, he was too caught up in his own celebrity to want to step down.

Anyhow, now, or actually sometime before he left, he decided to change the Church.

"I don't think I am anyone to tell the Catholic Church what or what not to do.  I don't think that is my role or feel any responsibility whatsoever.  But, I feel shame that every single day, I get a call, a text or email from a priest telling me, 'Albert, I'm desperate'." (Meaning that they have fallen in love and are in a similar dilemma, which is the title of Cutie's tell-all book on the saga).  "When people stop giving money and get tired of giving money, then the Church will feel forced to make changes; when the laity rises up and demands that they want a priest, who is just like them, with a wife and a family and can share his life with them, when that happens, the Church will have to change."

Let's face it, blame is a natural human instinct based on pride that started from the very beginning of time.  When God asked Adam what he had done, he quickly pointed at Eve, "The woman whom you put here with me (In other words God's fault too!)- she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it."  And, Eve blamed the serpent, "The snake tricked me."

At its core, Cutie's story demonstrates the nature of humanity.  Left to our own devices, we can always find justification and reason for our actions and can convince ourselves that it's OK because God forgives us, since it's really not as bad as what other people are doing.

The problem is that the more we rationalize and justify our sin, the more we separate ourselves from reality and the easier it is to fool ourselves into believing it's alright to go farther from the Truth, which is the reason Christ established and left a Church; to safeguard the Truth.

In Cutie's case, truth, in his new "more democratic" faith, as he called it, is apparently determine by the church elders.  When asked if he believed in homosexual "marriages," the priest answered, "We here in our parish don't do it because the church leadership, which is comprised of the laity, have asked me not to do it and, out of respect to them, I adhere to it.  In my personal opinion, God does not discriminate against anyone and we still have to break those barriers; not just here but in all churches."

The series finished with the reporter asking Cutie if he was a rebel,  "I am not a rebel.  I just want to be free."

"Freedom," however, as Abraham Lincoln once said, "is not the ability to do what we want but what we ought."

I have nothing against Alberto Cutie the man.  He is still greatly loved and respected by many.  I'm glad he is now living the "abundant life" and he has a beautiful family.  In fact, I often pray for his return to the Church (as a layman).

Nevertheless, like every man, woman, priest, pope or bishop through the annals of time, and I'm sure he would agree, he is a sinner.  And, when we separate ourselves, through sin, from the Truth that Christ left the Church, we may end up making our own...