By DAVID SMILEY, ROBERT SAMUELS and LUISA YANEZ
The Miami Herald
May 10, 2009
Despite declaring he is not ashamed of being with the woman he loves, the Rev. Alberto Cutié remains highly popular among Miami-Dade Catholics, who overwhelmingly oppose the church's long-standing policy of requiring a celibate clergy, a poll conducted for The Miami Herald over the weekend has found.
Among the poll's findings:
A substantial majority -- 74 percent -- of those surveyed, including Hispanics and non-Hispanics, oppose the Roman Catholic Church's prohibition of priests marrying or having any type of sexual relations. Only 22 percent said they supported the prohibition, while 4 percent said they were unsure or gave no answer.
That majority was even larger -- 81 percent -- when those polled were asked whether they thought priests and nuns should be able to marry because the ``celibacy requirement for Catholic clergy is antiquated and no longer viable.''
''In rejecting one of the cardinal tenets of church dogma, Roman Catholics in Miami-Dade now believe that church policies on celibacy from the 12th Century no longer make sense for the 21st Century,'' said Fernand R. Amandi, executive vice president of Bendixen & Associates, which conducted the poll for The Herald.
The poll's results are based on responses from 400 Miami-Dade Catholics interviewed Friday and Saturday. The sample is representative of the county's Catholic population by ethnicity, age, gender and geographic distribution. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.
The poll also shows that the public's perception of Cutié, who is no longer leading his Miami Beach parish, has not been severely damaged by the scandal that engulfed his religious life after a magazine published photos of him with a woman on the beach, including one with Cutié's hand inside the woman's bathing suit. Another photo shows the couple kissing at an unidentified terrace bar.
Those polled were asked:
``Taking into consideration everything that you know about Father Alberto Cutié, do you have a favorable or unfavorable impression of Father Alberto?''
Of those questioned, 78 percent said they had a favorable impression, and 10 percent said it was unfavorable, with 12 percent who were uncertain or had no opinion.
''The scandal has not had a serious impact on Father Cutié's popularity at all,'' Amandi said. ``The figures that he has are figures that would be the envy of any elected official.''
Sixty-four percent of those polled believed that Catholic priests do not adhere to the celibacy vow throughout their lives.
Cutié will give his first English-language interview Monday on CBS' The Early Show. He gave Spanish-language network Univisión an exclusive interview on Friday.
The poll also found that interest in the Cutié controversy is almost universal among Miami-Dade Catholics.
More than 90 percent of those interviewed said they were aware of the story, and two-thirds said they were ``very aware.''
One poll question asked whether they agreed with the Archdiocese of Miami's suspension of Cutié from duties at his parish, St. Francis de Sales in Miami Beach. Cutié said he was not suspended, but that he asked for time off for meditation and reflection after the compromising photos of him and the woman were published in a Mexican celebrity magazine. Cutié told The Miami Herald Friday night that marriage and a family were not out of the question for him.
The Catholics polled appear conflicted about Cutié's romantic relationship.
A majority told pollsters both that ''it is OK for Father Alberto to be romantically involved with a woman'' but, at the same time, ``the Archdiocese did the right thing by suspending him from his duties at his parish.''
Among those polled was Carolyn Hatfield, a 63-year-old real estate agent from Aventura who was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. She said Cutié had done nothing wrong.
''The church's stand is antiquated, and it's time that these priests were allowed to live a life that we all are entitled to live,'' Hatfield said. ``It served its purpose in the church all those years ago, but now people want to have a life and a family.''
Still, Hatfield said she did not feel sorry for Cutié, who was relieved on Tuesday of his duties at his parish and at the Archdiocese of Miami's radio and television arm, which he oversaw.
''He obviously knew he was taking a chance,'' she said.
Richard Antosiewicz, a 62-year-old retired telecommunications project manager, told pollsters that Cutié erred when he decided to become intimate with a woman.
''I see [Cutié's] point of it: that he's a man and she's a beautiful woman,'' he said. ``I can see that, but these are the rules of the church, and unless those rules change you have just got to obey those things. You just can't pick and choose what you want them to be.''
Antosiewicz said he understood both the arguments for and against priests' vow of celibacy, and said the requirement may need to be reconsidered.
''You've got to take a look at it,'' he said.
William Dayoub, a 72-year-old retired salesman from Coconut Grove, said the Catholic Church's celibacy requirement is hundreds of years behind the times and other priests should follow Cutié's lead.
'They should rebel and say, `No. This is enough,' '' he said.