By Jaweed Kaleem
The Rev. Alberto Cutié, the celebrity priest removed from his Miami Beach church after photos of him kissing and embracing a woman appeared in the pages of a Spanish-language magazine earlier this month, has left the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami to join the Episcopal church.
The small, private ceremony happened early Thursday afternoon at Trinity Cathedral, the church's South Florida headquarters in downtown Miami. Bishop Leo Frade, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida, officiated as Cutié knelt in front of the bishop and was received into the Episcopal church.
''I thank God for the many people in our community who have shown me their love and support,'' read a statement by Cutié. ``Your prayers have sustained me at this time of transition in my life. With God's help, I hope to continue priestly ministry and service in my mew spiritual home.''
At a news conference in front of the church, Cutié is expected to announce that he will marry his girlfriend, whom media reports have cited as 35-year-old Ruhama Buni Canellis, a divorced mother living in Miami Beach.
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 cover showed the priest in blue shorts lying on his back embracing a woman with long brown hair, a violation of his vow of chastity. Additional photos inside the magazine showed him kissing the woman.
Such a relationship is not prohibited in the more liberal Episcopal church, which considers itself the ''middle way'' between Protestantism and Catholicism. It ordains women and has an openly gay bishop.
The church represents the U.S. wing of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion and traces its roots to the Church of England, which broke from Rome in the 16th century.
Cutié is initially a lay person in the Episcopal church -- not a priest. The process of a Catholic priest becoming an Episcopal priest takes at least a year, experts say.
On Thursday, Cutié knelt in front of his new bishop and a handful of priests as Frade recited the traditional words to receive a new member 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.
While not having the same authority as a priest, Bishop Frade plans to give Cutié special status as a lay minister, meaning he can preach in Episcopal churches but not celebrate the Eucharist, the symbolic body and blood of Christ. Frade will grant that authority to Cutié in a ceremony Sunday at the Episcopal Church of The Resurrection in Biscayne Park.
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.''
Bishop C. Christopher Epting, the Episcopal church's national deputy for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, said that it is not uncommon for Catholic priests to become Episcopal priests.
''It's possible to receive a Catholic priest straight into the Episcopal priesthood,'' he said, adding Cutié could bypass the seminary but that he that would need to pass an examination in church history and doctrine and have two Catholic priests recommend his ``moral and Godly character.''
While the Episcopal and Catholic churches have almost identical worship services, there are also significant differences. Episcopals do not believe in the infallibility of the Pope, nor do they believe in transubstantiation -- that during the consecration of the Mass, the bread and wine are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ.
PADRE ALBERTO'S STATEMENT
The statement is also available in Spanish on Padre Alberto's Web site.
The book of Psalms tells us, "Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths". These words of Sacred Scripture have accompanied me for many years. The life of a man or woman of faith is a constant search for the will of God - we are always seeking God¹s path for each of us. Today I come before this community that I have tried to serve and continue to love with all my heart, to announce that I am continuing the call to spread the message of God¹s love and the vocation God gave me to priestly service. More than ever I am sure that God is love and is the source of all love.
I want to assure you that this journey did not begin a few weeks ago. I have searched my soul and sought after God's guidance for a long time. I have also spoken to friends in and outside the Episcopal Church about their service to God and the many similarities that exist among the various branches of Christianity, which profess the Catholic faith. I have seen the ways that many of my brothers serve God as married men, with the blessing of forming a family. In this process, I must also recognize that I began to have spiritual and deep ideological struggles, especially in dealing with those who felt excluded from living a full sacramental life.
Those who know me understand that I would never want to hurt anyone - especially my family, friends and the church community. Furthermore, my personal struggle should in no way tarnish the commitment of so many brother priests who are celibate and faithful to their promise. I will always love and hold dear the Roman Catholic Church and all its members who are committed to their faith and have enriched my life.
I have decided to become part of a new spiritual family within the umbrella of Christianity. As I have been saying and writing for years through my work in communications, instead of focusing on our differences, let's work together so that all may come to believe in a loving and good God, even in the midst of this changing world.
I ask everyone to please respect my privacy and the privacy of my loved ones. There have been lies, innuendos, rumors, and even hurtful actions by those seeking to profit from my life and struggles in this time of transition. I respectfully ask that all these things stop now.
As we begin this new stage in our lives, I ask that you extend to me and my loved ones the same courtesy and respect that every human being deserves. I am humbled by the support of so many people throughout the world and in our own community; and especially friends and family, who have given us unconditional love and support.
Thank you and May God bless you all.
Rev. Father Alberto Cutié