Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Episcopal Church Welcomes... "Father Oprah"

After a scandal erupted earlier this month over published photos of Fr Alberto Cutié and a woman with whom he was secretly involved in a relationship, the media-savvy cleric and TV host dubbed "Father Oprah" -- an immensely-popular figure in Latino circles -- stunned his South Florida base and beyond earlier today by being received into the Episcopal church and announcing that he'll marry Ruhama Buni Canelis, his love of two years...

...and given Cutié's profile, immense media coverage was had:
The small, private ceremony happened at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Trinity Cathedral, the church's South Florida headquarters in downtown Miami.

Cutié, dressed in a white dress shirt, a black jacket and black dress pants, sat smiling beside his fiancé during the half-hour ceremony. Priests and deacons from the Episcopal church were by his side -- many notably accompanied by their wives.

Bishop Leo Frade, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida, officiated as Cutié and Canellis knelt in front of the bishop and were received into the Episcopal church....

''I am continuing the call to spread God's love,'' Cutié said at a later news conference, adding that he he has gone through a ``deep spiritual and ideological struggle.''

Cutié got into trouble with the Archdiocese of Miami earlier this month when compromising pictures of the 40-year-old cleric were published in the Spanish-language magazine TVnotas. The magazine's pages showed Cutié in blue shorts lying on his back embracing Canellis and kissing her, a violation of his vow of chastity [sic]....

On Thursday, Cutié and Canellis knelt in front of their new bishop and a handful of priests as Frade recited the traditional words to receive new members of the church.

''We recognize you as a member of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church;and we receive you into the fellowship of this communion. God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bless, preserve and keep you. Amen,'' Frade said.

In previous interviews, Frade had said he and Cutié had spoken following the media frenzy surrounding the priest, which included an appearance on CBS' The Early Show and Spanish-language network Univisión, in addition to national and international newspapers.

In the interviews, Cutié has said he loves the woman and hinted at marriage and kids in the future.

Frade, who has been friends with Cutié for seven years and first met him through a Cuban ecumenical group, has said the popular priest had also spoken privately with leaders of other Christian denominations, such as Baptists and Lutherans. It is unclear if those conversations focused on joining those churches.

In South Florida, at least five former Catholic priests serve in the Episcopal church. Nationally, there are more than 100 Episcopal priests who were once Catholic.

''This doesn't say anything less of our sister church,'' Frade said Thursday. ``We have many Episcopal priests that have left the Episcopal church because they disagree with the ordination of women, and we have many Catholics that have joined our church. The road between Rome and Canterbury gets lots of traffic.''

After the news broke, Archbishop John Favalora of Miami released the following statement on Cutié's "separation from the church":
I am genuinely disappointed by the announcement made earlier this afternoon by Father Alberto Cutié that he is joining the Episcopal Church.

According to our canon law, with this very act Father Cutié is separating himself from the communion of the Roman Catholic Church (c. 1364, §1) by professing erroneous faith and morals, and refusing submission to the Holy Father (canon 751). He also is irregular for the exercise of sacred orders as a priest (canons 1041 and 1044, §1) and no longer has the faculties of the Archdiocese of Miami to celebrate the sacraments; nor may he preach or teach on Catholic faith and morals (cannon 1336, §1). His actions could lead to his dismissal from the clerical state.

This means that Father Cutié is removing himself from full communion with the Catholic Church and thereby forfeiting his rights as a cleric. Roman Catholics should not request the sacraments from Father Cuité. Any sacramental actions he attempts to perform would be illicit. Any Mass he says would be valid but illicit, meaning it does not meet a Catholic’s obligation. Father Cutié cannot validly officiate at marriages of Roman Catholics in the Archdiocese of Miami or anywhere.

Father Cutié is still bound by his promise to live a celibate life, which he freely embraced at ordination. Only the Holy Father can release him from that obligation.

To the Catholic faithful of Saint Francis de Sales Parish, Radio Paz and the entire Archdiocese of Miami, I again say that Father Cutié’s actions cannot be justified, despite his good works as a priest (statement of May 5, 2009). This is all the more true in light of today’s announcement. Father Cutié may have abandoned the Catholic Church; he may have abandoned you. But I tell you that the Catholic Church will never abandon you; the Archdiocese of Miami is here for you.

Father Cutié’s actions have caused grave scandal within the Catholic Church, harmed the Archdiocese of Miami − especially our priests – and led to division within the ecumenical community and the community at large. Today’s announcement only deepens those wounds.

When Father Cutié met with me on May 5th, he requested and I granted a leave of absence from the exercise of the priesthood. Because of this, he could no longer be the administrator of St Francis de Sales Parish or the General Director of Radio Paz. For the good of the Church and to avoid the media frenzy, I chose not to impose publicly an ecclesiastical penalty, although his admitted actions clearly warranted it. Since that meeting, I have not heard from Father Cutié nor has he requested to meet with me. He has never told me that he was considering joining the Episcopal Church.

I must also express my sincere disappointment with how Bishop Leo Frade of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida has handled this situation. Bishop Frade has never spoken to me about his position on this delicate matter or what actions he was contemplating. I have only heard from him through the local media. This truly is a serious setback for ecumenical relations and cooperation between us. The Archdiocese of Miami has never made a public display when for doctrinal reasons Episcopal priests have joined the Catholic Church and sought ordination. In fact, to do so would violate the principles of the Catholic Church governing ecumenical relations. I regret that Bishop Frade has not afforded me or the Catholic community the same courtesy and respect.

In my nearly 50 years as a priest, I have often preached on Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son – which really should be called the parable of the Forgiving Father (Luke 15, 11-32). Perhaps the story told by the Lord so long ago is applicable to our discussions this afternoon.

A father had two sons. One of them took his inheritance early and left home, spending his money wantonly. The father waited patiently for the return of his prodigal son, who after he had seen the error of his ways, repented and returned home. Upon his return, the father lovingly embraced him and called him his son. I pray that Father Cutié will “come to his senses” (Luke 15, 17) and return home. The Catholic Church seeks the conversion and salvation of sinners, not their condemnation. The same is my attitude toward Father Cutié.

We must not forget, however, that there were two sons in the Lord’s story. The other son, who never left home, was angry that his erring brother was welcomed home by the father. To all faithful Catholics, I say what the father said to this second son: “You are with me always and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice. This brother of yours was dead and has come back to life. He was lost, and is found” (Luke 15, 31-32).

In this beautiful parable Jesus teaches us that God is a loving and forgiving Father. Each of us has experienced that love, each of us needs that forgiveness; for we are all sinners. If our brother comes home, let us celebrate with the Father.

In conclusion, I commend and salute the priests of the Archdiocese of Miami and all priests who faithfully live and fulfill their promise of celibacy. By their fidelity to their promise they reflect more clearly to the world the Christ whose total gift of himself to the Father was pure and chaste love for his brothers and sisters. In our times so pre-occupied with sex, the gift of celibacy is all the more a sign of the Kingdom of Heaven where, as scripture says, there will be “no marrying or giving in marriage” (Matthew 22, 30). I encourage all Catholics to pray for and support our dedicated priests.
Given the faculties of a deacon by his new bishop, Cutié will preach his first sermon as an Episcopalian on Sunday morning at a Miami parish.

Al Diaz/Miami Herald(1); AP(2)