Saturday, May 30, 2009

Irish abuse report demands decisive action

On Wednesday, May 20, the government of Ireland issued a 2,600-page report on the nine-year investigation into Catholic church-operated schools and reformatories. The report came from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and covered a 60-year-period from 1936 to the present. It raised serious questions about Catholic institutions that permitted and fostered climates of sustained abuse by priests and nuns.

U.S. Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer and advocate for those abused by priests, offers this reflection on the report.


* * * *

Thus far the reaction to the publication of the Report of the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse has been quite consistent. Most who have read news accounts of the 30 page executive summary have expressed shock, horror, disgust, anger and other like sentiments. Presuming that the executive summary is exactly that, a summary one can therefore presume that the full report is more of the same horror except in more detail.

This report was the end result of a long investigation conducted by a government agency and headed by Justice Sean Ryan. The report's credibility, indeed its very power lies with its source. The lengthy investigation was not a private endeavor and certainly not sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church. As if this report is not mind and soul blowing enough, it will be followed on later this summer by the report of the inquiry into sexual abuse by clergy of the Archdiocese of Dublin.

The Roman Catholic Church has been intimately enmeshed with every facet of life in the Republic of Ireland. The Church controlled the education, health care and welfare systems. Every one of the institutions probed by the Commission was run by a Catholic religious order, the two predominant ones being the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy. Both orders are headquartered in Rome and in Ireland, the activities of each has been subject to the oversight and authority of the Irish Bishops. The young children who are described in the report as the victims of all types of horrific abuse are members of what the Second Vatican Council referred to as the "People of God."

The vicious sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual devastation inflicted upon these children was not accidental. It was systemic. It was part of the everyday life and indeed deeply ingrained in the very culture of the childcare system in Catholic Ireland.

The intellects and emotions of decent people, of committed Christians and especially of devoted Catholics cannot truly process the unbelievable reality presented in this report. The sadistic world of these institutions is not that of some crazed secular dictatorship. It is not the world of an uncivilized tribal culture that ravaged the weak in ages long past. This report describes a world created and sustained by the Roman Catholic Church. The horrors inflicted on these helpless, trapped children -- rapes, beatings, molestation, starvation, isolation -- all were inflicted by men and women who had vowed themselves to the service of people in the name of Christ's love.

The report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is not unique though it may well be the most shocking example of the reality of such a culture of evil. In the past two decades over two dozen reports have described physical and sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by Catholic clergy and religious. Among the more shocking have been a series of reports submitted to the Vatican between 1994 and 1998 revealing sexual exploitation of religious women in Africa by African priests [1]. These reports remained largely unknown until they were brought to light by the National Catholic Reporter in 2001. Other reports have opened the doors to the secret world of clergy sexual abuse in the U.S. and elsewhere. The report of the Winter Commission about rampant sexual abuse at Mount Cashel, the Christian Brothers orphanage in Newfoundland and the report of the Philadelphia Grand Jury investigation stand out as examples not only of the depravity but of the institutionalized cover-up.

Revelations of various forms of abuse by Catholic religious and clerics all have common elements. Likewise, they evoke responses from the institutional leadership that are common to all examples of abuse and consistent in their nature. Most disturbing is the certain knowledge that the vicious abuse, in Ireland and elsewhere, is not accidental nor isolated and it is never unknown to Church authorities. The Church's authorities, from the pope himself down to the local bishops and religious superiors have known about this unbelievable culture of abuse and have done nothing.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan referred to the Church as a “Loving Mother” when he spoke at his installation Mass in New York. In light of the facts disclosed in the Irish report as well as the information revealed about countless other cases of abuse, such a description of the Church is not only absurd, but insulting to the countless people whose belief and trust in the hierarchy and clergy has been betrayed.

The official reaction is predictable. Denial, minimization, blame shifting and finally limited acknowledgment followed by carefully nuanced “apologies” has been the standard fare. At no time has the leadership of any part of the institutional Church ever owned up to any systemic accountability. The standard responses are totally unacceptable because they are devious and irrelevant. Those who still hold to the institutional Church as their source of emotional security may well bray about anti-Catholicism, media sensationalism and exaggeration of what they claim to be an aberration. Such responses are mindless but far worse, they inflict even more pain on the thousands whose lives have been violated.

The Church cannot and will not fix itself. The very reality of the systemic abuse in the Irish institutions (and elsewhere as well) reveals a deep disdain for people by those charged with leading the Church. There has been an abandonment of the fundamental values that are supposed to vivify the Church if indeed these values were ever really internalized by many in positions of power. There is something radically wrong with the institutional Catholic Church. This is painfully obvious because it allows systemic abuse and radical dishonesty to coexist with its self-proclaimed identity as the Kingdom of God on earth.

The institutional Church is defensively changing its approach to the systematic abuse all too slowly and only because it is forced to do so by external forces it cannot control. The Irish government commission is one and the U.S. legal system is another. No amount of bureaucratic programs, pious apologies, rhetorical hand wringing and effusive promises of future change will make the difference. The problem is more than the widespread abuse itself. Punishing the perpetrators is completely missing the forest standing behind the trees. The clerical culture intertwined with the institution needs to be fearlessly examined and dismantled as we know it. It has wrought far too much destruction and murdered too many souls to be tolerated for another generation.

Catholics have a profound obligation in charity and justice to the countless victims of all forms of abuse. They have an obligation to believers of all kinds everywhere. They must ceaselessly do all that can be done to free the Christian/Catholic community from the toxic control of the clericalized institutional structure so that once more the Church will be identified not with an anachronistic and self-serving monarchy but with the Body of Christ.

[Fr. Thomas Doyle served as a consultant to the Dublin archdiocese's commission on abuse by clergy.]

Move over, Padre Alberto! San Juan is behind you.

The fallout from Padre Alberto's decision to join the Episcopal Church has begun. Today's El Nuevo Día reports that five priests from the Diocese of San Juan, Puerto Rico, plan to join the exodus -- all because of celibacy issues. How many more will it take before the Church realizes: Yo, we got a problem here!?


By Sandra Caquías Cruz (translation by Rebel Girl)
El Nuevo Día
May 30, 2009

Not one, not two. Now five Puerto Rican Catholic priests are following in the footsteps of Alberto Cutié in the decision to abandon the priesthood in the Catholic Church to enter the ranks of the Episcopal Church.

All have a common denominator: they are in love with a woman.

Five priests, most from the Diocese of San Juan, knocked on the door of the Episcopal Church to tell Bishop David Álvarez that they were failing to live their celibacy vow and preferred to join his denomination that would allow them to marry.

The five priests took the step, Álvarez explains, after the photos of Cutié were publicized, where the now ex-Catholic priest appears with his girlfriend in romantic scenes on a Miami beach.

"The Diocese of Puerto Rico, specifically five Roman Catholic priests, also primarily because of the mandatory celibacy impediment, are interested in continuing to be priests, so as to be able to marry in the Episcopal Diocese of Puerto Rico. They are in the process," Bishop Alvarez confirmed during a telephone interview from New York with this newspaper.

He explained that of those five priests, two have already completed their entrance into the ranks of the Episcopal Church, but they are not yet working as preists.

"The other three are still in the Catholic Church because they have not yet officially left, but some have already resigned. They are not working [as priests]," Alvarez said.

Where are they from? "Most are from the Archdiocese of San Juan," he answered.

Bishop Alvarez declined to reveal the names of the priests, but he stated that it is not the first time that this has happened.

Archbishop Roberto González Nieves, leader of the Archdiocese of San Juan, did not answer calls from El Nuevo Día.

Central African Republic: Church in Crisis as Two Catholic Bishops Quit

29 May 2009

B angui — The Catholic Church in the Central African Republic is grappling with a crisis brought by the resignation of two senior bishops and a strike by priests.

The Vatican on Tuesday announced the resignation of Archbishop Paulin Pomodimo of Bangui, 54, less than two weeks after the departure on May 16 of Bishop Francois-Xavier Yombanje of Bossangoa, president of the bishops' conference.

Media reports say the resignation of Archbishop Pomodimo followed an investigation into priests of Bangui who live more or less openly with women and had fathered children.

Catholic News Service reported that following Archbishop Pomodimo's exit, more than 40 priests launched a one-day strike to protest the appointment of a new apostolic administrator. The priests from the Archdiocese of Bangui resumed celebrating Mass on Thursday a.

The Bangui archdiocesan chancellor, Fr Brad Mazangue, told CNS that arrangements were being made for the new apostolic administrator, Fr Dieudonne Nzapa-La-Ayinga, to address the priests on the matter as soon as possible.

When announcing the resignation of Archbishop Pomodimo, the Vatican said the prelate quit under the terms of Canon 401.2 of the Code of Canon Law, which states that "a diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfil his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office."

Other reports quoted Passionist Fr Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office, as saying that Archbishop Pomodimo resigned because of "insurmountable difficulties in running the diocese."

Fr Mathurin Paze Lekissan, a Bangui archdiocesan priest, told CNS by telephone that the Bangui clergy had invited priests in other dioceses to join them in protesting the resignation of the two bishops.

The news agency Africa News had reported Monday that Archbishop Pomodimo and several priests in his archdiocese would be sanctioned "for adopting a moral attitude which is not always in conformity with their commitments to follow Christ in chastity, poverty and obedience."

The agency said Guinean Archbishop Robert Sarah, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, had visited the Central African Republic and "concluded that many local priests have official homes, children and have accumulated private properties."

Archbishop Sarah told CNS on Tuesday that he had travelled to the Bangui Archdiocese, but could not comment further.

Africa News also reported that priests from nine of the country's dioceses accused the Vatican of being "discriminatory, partial and selective in the assessment of the situation since white priests and bishops are also guilty of the same practices."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Padre Alberto becomes an Episcopalian

By Jaweed Kaleem
Miami Herald
5/28/2009

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.

Dear friends:

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bangui archbishop retires amid reports many of his priests are not celibate

Catholic News Service
May 26, 20009

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of a 54-year-old archbishop from the Central African Republic following an investigation into priests of his diocese who live more or less openly with women and the children they have fathered.

The Vatican announced May 26 that Archbishop Paulin Pomodimo (photo), 54, of Bangui had resigned under the terms of Canon 401.2 of the Code of Canon Law, which states that "a diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office."

Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office, said Archbishop Pomodimo resigned because of "insurmountable difficulties in running the diocese."

The news agency Africa News had reported May 25 that Archbishop Pomodimo and several priests in his archdiocese would be sanctioned "for adopting a moral attitude which is not always in conformity with their commitments to follow Christ in chastity, poverty and obedience."

The agency said Guinean Archbishop Robert Sarah, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, had visited the Central African Republic and "concluded that many local priests have official homes, children and have accumulated private properties."

Archbishop Sarah told Catholic News Service May 26 that he had traveled to the Bangui Archdiocese, but could not comment further.

Africa News also reported that priests from nine of the country's dioceses met May 22-24 in Bangui expressing their opposition to the removal of the archbishop and accusing the Vatican of being "discriminatory, partial and selective in the assessment of the situation since white priests and bishops are also guilty of the same practices."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Who Is a Real Catholic?

By David Gibson
Washington Post
Sunday, May 17, 2009

All you need to know to diagnose the state of the Catholic Church in America today is that Pope Benedict XVI -- who has a knack for ticking off Muslims and Jews -- spent the past week wandering the Middle East, yet Catholics here barely noticed. They were too busy fighting over Barack Obama's appearance as commencement speaker at Notre Dame or arguing about the fate of a popular Miami priest known as "Father Oprah," who was caught on camera sharing a seaside embrace with his girlfriend.

Is this what Catholicism in America has come to? Bickering about whether Notre Dame is really Catholic, or whether a priest can make out on the beach with his gal pal? Well, yes. And that should come as no surprise.

Since the emergence of Catholicism in the 19th century as a counterweight to the United States's reigning Protestant culture, American Catholics have struggled to balance their desire to assimilate into society with the fear of losing their faith in the nation's melting pot. These new controversies show that, in the Catholic saga, assimilation is winning.

That is because American Catholics -- and there are upwards of 65 million of us -- are going their own way on many matters of faith and especially on issues ranging from priestly celibacy to political candidates, and there seems to be little the bishops can do about it. If there is a true swing vote in the U.S. electorate today, it is the Catholic bloc. This disturbs conservative members of the faith, the self-styled "orthodox" who often dismiss such fickle folks as "cafeteria Catholics." In the vacuum left by the disappearing Catholic subculture, conservatives have made politics the eighth sacrament, with one's position on abortion and gay marriage becoming the litmus test of whether one is a "good Catholic," or a Catholic at all.

This civil war, as the Catholic writer Peter Steinfels recently called it, between hard-liners and those seeking greater engagement, is one the church cannot win. A recent Pew survey showed that despite a generally greater "brand loyalty" than most faiths, Catholicism in America is bleeding out, to the point that nearly one in 10 Americans identifies as a former Catholic. For every one convert, four Catholics are leaving the church -- half of them to traditions like evangelicalism that they find more spiritually fulfilling. Without the inflow of millions of Latino immigrants in recent decades, American Catholicism would be in decline, and even still the church is shrinking in many areas.

The conflicting identities of American Catholics have deep roots. Beginning in the 1800s, American Catholics insulated themselves by building an alternate universe of schools to educate their children, hospitals to care for their sick, and cemeteries to bury their dead. They were forbidden to marry outside the fold, and stepping inside a Protestant church was considered hazardous to the soul's health. On the other hand, just as Catholics wanted to show Rome they could be every bit as Catholic as the pope, they also wanted to prove to their fellow citizens that they could be as red, white, and blue as any Connecticut Yankee. They fought in the nation's wars, labored in the country's factories, and turned out generations of college graduates who took their place among America's elite. And after the presidential candidacy of Al Smith was thwarted in 1928 thanks in part to anti-Catholic canards, the faithful helped power John F. Kennedy to the White House in 1960.

Of course, just as Catholics finally arrived, they almost immediately set to fighting among themselves with a bitterness that would make even the most fractious Baptists blush. The Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s brought contested reforms that coincided with the social upheavals of that decade, and in 1968, as women were rejoicing in the liberation of The Pill, Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical Humanae Vitae reaffirming the ban on artificial contraception. Some Catholics stormed off but others simply defected in place, feeling free to stay and disregard papal teaching. Then came Roe v. Wade, drawing Catholicism into the culture wars with a fury that seemed to peak during the 2008 election.

But it didn't end on November 4. In March, when the University of Notre Dame invited President Obama to deliver its commencement address -- as it has done for presidents going back to Eisenhower -- conservative Catholics and a growing number of bishops (about 60 at last count, though still a minority of the nearly 290 active bishops in the United States) denounced the school and its president, Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, in the harshest terms. Bishop Thomas G. Doran of Rockford, Ill., had perhaps the sharpest (and most insider) of jabs, calling Jenkins's invitation "truly obscene" and suggesting that he rename the school "Northwestern Indiana Humanist University."

As such purple rhetoric was flying about on the Notre Dame affair, American Catholics suddenly faced a more sordid one: A tabloid published shots of popular Cuban American priest Alberto Cutié -- a multimedia star among U.S. Hispanics -- in risqué poses on the beach with a woman who turns out to be his girlfriend of two years. Nothing draws media flies like a sex scandal, especially one involving a man of the cloth, but a funny thing happened on the way to Father Cutié's disgrace: He did not slink away in shame but instead proclaimed, with Luther-like dignity, that he wasn't worried what the hierarchy thought. "What worries me most is how God views me. The institution, the church, is something else."

Cutié is now reportedly considering whether to marry his girlfriend, and has said he thinks priestly celibacy should be optional. What's more, 78 percent of Miami-area Catholics said they had a favorable impression of him, and 81 percent backed his call for a married priesthood, according to a Miami Herald poll.

That willingness of American Catholics to break ranks with such long-held tenets is evident in surveys on a number of issues, including church teachings regarding celibacy and birth control. But for conservative Catholics, "opposition to abortion is the signpost at the intersection of Catholicism and American public life," as Jody Bottum, who recently succeeded the late Father Richard John Neuhaus as editor of the theocon journal First Things, wrote recently in the Weekly Standard. To Bottum, Notre Dame's president and others who could engage a pro-abortion rights politician like Obama "lack the cultural marker that would make them Catholic in the minds of other Catholics."

While those "other Catholics" are a distinct minority, they have adopted the tactics of hard-line activists. For example, when Obama visited Georgetown University last month to deliver a major economic policy speech, his set-up crew covered up a religious symbol behind the podium to make the setting conform to a non-religious standard. The move was immediately cited as proof that Obama was anti-Catholic -- the speech's references to the Sermon on the Mount notwithstanding.

These activists have also exploited -- or worked with -- bishops whose views match their own. And they can get away with it because the do-it-yourself trend in Catholicism is also infecting the hierarchy, with bishops openly contradicting each other on such fundamental issues as one's suitability to receive Communion, in terms that might have once been reserved for the church's archenemies.

And this is perhaps the greatest irony: Conservative Catholics are proving to be the greatest assimilationists, with their efforts to decertify fellow Catholics mimicking a sectarian and divisive culture that classic Catholicism has always rejected.

A recent courageous editorial in the national Jesuit weekly America (which has at times felt the wrath of Rome) cited the dangers that the Notre Dame furor has revealed: "For today's sectarians, it is not adherence to the church's doctrine on the evil of abortion that counts for orthodoxy, but adherence to a particular political program . . . They scorn Augustine's inclusive, forgiving, big-church Catholics . . . [and] threaten the unity of the Catholic Church in the United States."

This priority on unity is the principle that most American Catholics still live by, and it makes them accept Father Cutié, girlfriend and all, and welcome Obama to the iconic campus in South Bend. As the conservative Catholic legal scholar and Reagan administration lawyer Douglas Kmiec put it in Slate earlier this year, "Beyond life issues, an audaciously hope-filled Democrat like Obama is a Catholic natural."

When he speaks at Notre Dame, Barack Obama -- an African-American Protestant with a Muslim father -- may enunciate a vision that resonates more genuinely with American Catholics than the pronouncements of the church's high-decibel spokesmen. This state of affairs can emerge only in a church that is compromising its historic self-definition as the biggest of tents.

A century ago, the church was deeply divided over Pope Pius X's campaign against "Modernism," which was a catchall for anything Rome deemed suspicious. When Pius died, the conclave of 1914 elected Benedict XV, who immediately issued an encyclical calling on Catholics "to appease dissension and strife" so that "no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith."

"There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism," Benedict XV concluded. "It is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname.'"

If the Catholic Church had a bumper sticker, that could be it. And it means that the real dilemma for American Catholics today is not whether Notre Dame is Catholic, but whether we are.

David Gibson is author of "The Coming Catholic Church: How the Faithful are Shaping a New American Catholicism" and "The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle with the Modern World."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Married Catholic Priests call on Vatican for “optional celibacy”

MercoPress
5/14/2009

The Latinamerican Federation of Married Catholic Priests called on the Vatican to accept “optional celibacy” for members of the Church and acknowledge as something natural that clergy members can marry.


The proposal will be presented directly to the Vatican by the federation, seated in Belgium, following a congress that will take place later this year announced from Ecuador, Mario Mullo president of the organization.

“Our position is the same that that of the International Confederation of married Catholic Priests and Wives, which is precisely to work for the “optional celibacy”, underlined Mullo who stated that the Catholic Church “mandatory celibacy”, is anachronic.

Recent scandals involving paternity claims against former bishop Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo and the revelation of romantic scenes in with a woman in a Miami beach involving a popular priest Alberto Cutié have triggered the discussion inside the Catholic Church said Mullo.

“We’re working and struggling for an optional celibacy in the Catholic Church and we are not against having celibate priests, because we believe it all enriches the Church”, he added pointing out that the Catholic Church should not have such an intransigent position “as is the current hierarchy of the Vatican”.

Mullo said that optional celibacy is the “outcry of the Catholic people” and is needed to avoid the emergence of so “many scandals”.

He said that according to the latest statistics from the International Confederation currently “there are approximately 150.000 married priests in the world”.

“In 1990 it was believed we were 100.000 but in these last few years there has been a considerable increase in the number of married priests that have abandoned celibacy”.

The fact a priest marries does not mean he is no longer a member of the clergy, said Mullo, but rather that he can’t exercise sacramental activity, which means celebrating mass.

“It’s an ad divinis suspension such as has been applied to the President of Paraguay and father Alberto in Miami who are impeded from celebrating mass, although nobody can deny them the right to priesthood because that is a gift from God”.

Mullo said mandatory celibacy is an anachronic situation that has been discussed since the Middle Age and before at the different Church councils. “The Church must listen to the voice of the people that is the voice of God and many times gives the orientation which is not understood or listened to in the Church”.

“Sometimes very drastic decisions are taken, which have no support in the writings or dogmas of the Church and a natural law is prohibited when priests are banned from getting married”, he remarked.

Mothers and Children: The other face of celibacy

This is a translation of "Madres e hijos, la otra cara del celibato" by Mariela Rosero from El Comercio (Ecuador), 5/16/2009.

He greets Maria Cristina with a kiss on the mouth and strokes her hand from time to time. It has been more than 50 years since Father Alonso Pérez stopped paying attention to the lessons he learned in seminary…

“They taught us to walk with our eyes to the ground and not look at a woman, because she was the devil and temptation,” this loquacious 83-year old man remembers.

A black jacket, waistcoat and wool sweater give him the appearance of a priest like any other. The calm tone of voice and the wrinkles that crease the skin of his face also make one see him as a holy man.

But he does not want to project that image. Until January 2007, when the Ecuadoran Bishops’ Conference retired him, he celebrated religious services in his parish, La Ferroviaria, in Tungurahua. And until last November he presided at secret Masses in San Diego in the capital.

He never left the priesthood nor did he experience a crisis in faith, since he got ordained in order to influence humble people. He was convinced that the Church could help the poor. He was happy in front of youth groups.

However, Pérez was not just another Catholic priest. In the country there are 1,728, about one for every 8,000 inhabitants.

Until 2007 he led a double life. Even though his catechists, his people, and the Church hierarchy have known that for the last 30 years he has also been father of a family.

Cristian, his oldest son, is 30 years old and studies at the University of San Francisco in the U.S. He is a doctor in medicine and biology. Loly is the youngest daughter, 18 years old. From the time Maria Cristina, now 53, realized she was pregnant, she suffered a lot.

The dressmaker and teacher of Secap fell in love with a different man – the vicar for ministry of the Tungurahua Diocese, who had recently come from Paris. He didn’t wear a clerical collar, he was rebellious and hard working. A nun, Marieta González accompanied him and she called him a “crazy man.”

According to her, a gringa in the Peace Corps offered to maintain a sex life with him. He was afraid to accept, thinking she could blackmail him. He believed in the ideal of dedicating himself to a community as to a girlfriend or a family. He was celibate for 29 years.

“He had no marriage plans, he was enthralled with working with people," Maria Cristina recalls. Their relationship was kept at a distance. She gave birth in Quito after spending five of her nine months of pregnancy in Venezuela. They saw each other from time to time, making dates in restaurants or to play tennis, prudently. He visited them on Mondays or Tuesdays.

“My daughter, I love you very much, but I can’t leave my position; it’s a very serious commitment," Alonso confessed to her. She accepted it and confronted her mother-in-law, Serafina, who almost beat her furiously. She screamed: “I didn’t make you marry this girl, but the Virgin Mary.”

When they had their second little girl, one of Alonso’s sisters told bishop Vicente Cisneros about him. “My brother has two children.” The bishop talked to him about the fact and the priest assured him that interest in his heritage weighed on him and everything ended there.

”The celibacy vow nurtures hypocrisy. Over 80% of priests have poor women at their sides. A rich woman would denounce them. They are cooks, housekeepers and catechists. I have baptized the children of several brother priests, their ‘nephews’.”

Alonso Peréz is a member of the Asociación de Sacerdotes Casados del Ecuador Yahuarcocha, founded in 1992. Seven years earlier, in 1985, the International Federation of Married Catholic Priests and their Wives began in Ariccia, Italy.

In 1990 the Federación Latinoamericana para la Renovación de los Ministerios was formed, supported by Argentinian bishop Jerónimo Podesta and his wife Clelia Luro.

Its president is Mario Mullo, a 66-year old Ecuadorian, who left the priesthood after 10 years of service. Thirty-five years ago he married Rosa Leiva, now 58.

The couple have three children: Daniela, 30, Fernanda, 28 and Mario, 22. The girls are married, and the oldest will give birth to Mullo’s first grandchild in one month.

Mullo calculates that there are 150,000 to 400,000 priests who have left the priesthood for love. The Yahuarcocha organization believes that it is time to reopen the debate on optional celibacy.

This, after learning of the existence of a child by Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo, ex-bishop of San Pedro. In his country, they even composed a cumbia for him: “Lugaucho tiene corazón, pero no usó el condón”. Then Father Alberto Cutié was photographed with a beautiful woman on the beach in Miami.

Rosa is still disturbed when she remembers what they suffered, when her current husband bid farewell to his parishioners from the pulpit at Calacalí. He confessed to them that he had fallen in love.

“Small town, huge hell, everybody talked about it. I could only come back after three years," Rosa said. Father Mario told his mother-in-law Luz about his intent to marry, after a three-year engagement. It was terrible.

Rosa came back from her job in Quito. She could hear the screams of her mother Luz from the corner. She was trembling. As soon as she came in the door her mother pulled her hair.

“Miss Sanctimonious. How come your lover is Father Mario? Don’t you know that they are disciples of God? It’s the worst sin in the world!, " she yelled. She warned her that if they got married they should forget about her.

The marriage took place in Quito, in the church of San Isidro de El Inca. Mario’s whole family accompanied them. He had been preparing them by telling them that celibacy wasn’t natural and that he could not live a double life, as his superiors were advising him to do.

In Calacali, after a year, they were still talking about Rosa and Mario. The new pastor prayed for the “souls of the cohabitants”. Her mother didn’t forgive her until her mother-in-law told her: “Not a leaf on the tree moves without God’s permission, we are nobody to judge them.”

Years later, when the family visited the parish, Rosa still felt eyes upon her. “They see me as a strange creature.”

At a party at Mario’s family’s house, an uncle danced with Rosa and spat at her: “He should not have gotten married, you must have suggested it to him, you are the devil.” She cried.

Mario finished his Sociology studies at the Central University of Quito and started to work for a foundation. Then as a professor. Today he is assistant director of the Architecture School. He also gives classes in epistemology for the Christian University of Latin America.

“As children, we were told that my father left the priesthood because he loved my mother. I didn’t see it as good or bad, I didn’t understand the Church rules,” Daniela, the oldest daughter, remembers.

Mario, the youngest son, admires him today because of his struggle for optional celibacy and women priests. “He knew the world through confessions, he didn’t have to experience so much, if you understand me.”

Dispensations take 3 years

In the Archdiocese of Quito there are about 300 priests. Three of them have asked for dispensation to leave the ministry, according to Father Nicolás Dousdebés, adjunct general secretary of the Ecuadorian Bishops’ Conference.

To be ordained one goes through a period of at least six years of academic, spiritual and human training. “It isn’t that nobody knows or that one is forced to live in celibacy.”

If a priest discovers that a human love for a woman is stronger than his calling, he can ask for a dispensation. Through the bishop, it is requested from the Pontifical Congregation for the Clergy in Rome.

The answer can come as late as five years later, in case the priest wants to change his decision. Afterwards, he can marry in the Church like the other faithful.

Dousdebés says that there are many cases of infidelity among married couples, and nobody calls for this sacrament to be eliminated because of this. With optional celibacy, perhaps vocations will increase, at least until the novelty wears off.

“Then they will decrease for economic reasons, because a married priest will have to earn more to maintain the wife and children, or else have two jobs. The faithful don’t contribute a lot.”

Homero Galarza, of the Asociación de Sacerdotes Casados Yahuarcocha, says that the Church doesn’t understand that those who abandon it don’t just do so to get married. “We group together in order to defend ourselves, if an employee is laid off from a company, he has rights.

We are punished for getting married or acknowledging a child. The hierarchy tells us to just let it be, that they will pay the support.”

Celibacy: Anglo vs. Hispanic Catholics

This article from the Associated Press is interesting because it shows the differences between Hispanic and Anglo Catholics' response to the Fr. Cutié situation.

News is breaking so fast that it's hard to keep up with the translations but here are some more items before getting to the AP story:

  • CELAM, the Latin American Bishops' Conference, is circling the wagons and making it clear that celibacy will not be on the table at their meeting in Managua this week. Archbishop Raymundo Damasceno, CELAM's president, told the press: "[Celibacy] is not up for debate at this assembly nor in the Church in general, and so the priest who is ordained also must be prepared to exercise his ministry within the requirements the Church lays out for candidates to the priesthood.”

  • El Comercio surveyed residents of Lima, Peru on the subject. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed opposed celibacy as "unnatural", 59% thought the church should allow priests to marry and 41% thought the Church should ordain married men. I'm not sure what to make of these statistics. Perhaps the attitude could be summarized as "we prefer our priests to be single, but if they are going to leave the priesthood because of mandatory celibacy then it's better for them to marry than to leave."
Celibacy questions haunt scandalized priest

By ERIC GORSKI
The Associated Press
Saturday, May 16, 2009 12:26 PM

-- He is the priest with the girlfriend, caught by paparazzi on a Miami beach and now caught, he says, between love for a woman and his church.

Only the Rev. Alberto Cutie, a celebrity among Hispanic Catholics for his good looks, media savvy and advice about relationships, can't have both. As Cutie decides between clerical collar and wedding ring, he is sure of one thing: He doesn't want to be "the anti-celibacy priest."

The scandal enveloping Cutie since compromising photos of the couple hit the press May 5 has jump-started conversation about mandatory celibacy for priests.

But among Hispanic Catholics in the U.S., there is little appetite to change the status quo, polls show. That's significant because it differs from the views of more liberal white Catholics _ and because Hispanic Catholics are a fast-growing demographic reshaping the U.S. church.

Hispanic Catholic opinions on celibacy and the Cutie soap opera provide a glimpse at some of the community's values. Among them: a respect for authority but tolerance when someone falls short and a machismo culture and love for family that both colors attitudes toward the priesthood and dissuades many Hispanic men from taking the vow.

Karla Benitez, 58, a Catholic who attends Mass weekly at a church in Hialeah, Fla., said she admires Father Albert's good works but feels he has failed his church and his followers.

Asked whether Cutie's case could lead to change in the church's celibacy rules, Benitez said she couldn't understand the correlation.

"This should reinforce the rules of the church, not challenge it," she said. "Why should this incident force us to tolerate this kind of behavior by the clergy? It doesn't matter if the rule was from God or not. A priest must be faithful to a promise they made."

Photos of the Cuban-American Cutie (pronounced koo-tee-ay) embracing a dark-haired woman on a Miami beach and in a bar were first published in a Spanish-language tabloid. The Miami archdiocese removed Cutie from his parish post and as head of its international radio network.

In an interview with CBS, Cutie, 40, said he has been romantically involved with the woman in the photos, a 35-year-old divorced mother, for about two years.

Cutie lamented: "I don't want to be the anti-celibacy priest .... I believe celibacy is a good commitment to God. In my case it was something I struggled with for a long time ..."

Before the scandal, Cutie had said publicly that celibacy should be a choice for priests. He did not respond to interview requests from The Associated Press.

The Cutie drama comes as the president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, is ensnared in a scandal about another broken vow. Lugo, a former Catholic bishop, has admitted fathering a child while he was still ordained. Two other women have come forward with similar claims.

With few exceptions, becoming a Catholic priest in the Western church requires a vow of celibacy, meaning no sexual relations or marriage. Although celibacy is a tradition dating to the church's earliest days, it was not made mandatory until the 11th century.

The celibate priesthood has been modified over the years. The Catholic church in the West has made room for married clergy from other denominations to become Catholic priests and stay married. Celibacy is optional for Eastern Rite priests.

In the U.S., the celibate priesthood is a subject of perennial debate but the gap between white and Hispanic Catholics on the issue has gotten less attention.

A survey in 2003 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University found that 74 percent of non-Latino Catholics believed married men should be ordained as priests. Just 45 percent of U.S. Latino Catholics held that position.

Two years ago, a Pew survey found a similar result _ 44 percent of nonwhite Hispanic Catholics thought married men should be allowed to become priests.

Those numbers don't tell the whole story about Hispanic Catholics and celibacy, however.

The 2003 survey also found that male Latino Catholics were less likely than male non-Latino Catholics to have considered becoming a priest or brother _ 13 percent compared to 24 percent.

Basically, Hispanic Catholics are believers in the current rules for the priesthood. The men just aren't rushing to sign up.

Hispanics tend to respect authority instead of question it like American culture encourages, so most back the church's priesthood rules, said the Rev. Allan Figueroa Deck, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office for Cultural Diversity in the Church.

Yet in Latin American countries, Catholic priests' live-in girlfriends are a poorly kept secret. Parishioners look the other way. While Americans expect consistency between what is taught and practiced, other cultures are more tolerant of ambiguity, Deck said.

Those dynamics might help explain findings of a poll by the Miami firm Bendixen & Associates: 57 percent of Hispanic Catholics in Miami-Dade County thought it was OK for Cutie to be romantically involved with a woman, and 56 percent thought the Miami archdiocese did the right thing by suspending him.

"If you ask (Hispanic Catholics), they will tell you what the church says, what it teaches," Deck said. "However, when the priest does not live to that ideal, there's a tendency to say 'Well, they're only human and that's a difficult standard to live up to.'"

The Most Rev. Jaime Soto, bishop of Sacramento, Calif., questioned the appropriateness of using Cutie's case to challenge the celibate priesthood.

"Infidelity in marriage is a rather frequent occurrence," said Soto, 53, who is Mexican-American. "Assuming that marriage will solve the problem of celibacy is a naive assumption. I don't necessarily think celibacy is the problem. Nor is marriage necessarily the solution. There is no doubt that celibacy is a very challenging lifestyle given the world we live in today. But then, so is marriage."

Soto said Hispanic Catholics' strong appreciation for sacrifice helps explain why most support the priesthood as it is. And because Hispanics put family first, a priest with a family is viewed as a priest with less time for parishioners, he said.

Soto said that when he interviews prospective priests who are Hispanic, they often discuss the man facing a future without a family of his own.

"In many ways, in the contemporary culture in the United States, the concept of the traditional family or the celibate priesthood are not that well understood or appreciated," Soto said. "As Latinos become more acculturated to American life, they will be increasingly challenged in those two very core values."

Some Catholics do not think that is necessarily a bad thing _ at least when it comes to the priesthood. The Rev. Eduardo Samaniego, a Jesuit priest and pastor of Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in San Jose, Calif., said that in overwhelmingly Catholic countries such as Mexico, people get little exposure to married clergy.

"Here, people are regularly exposed to people of other faiths and denominations," said Samaniego, who supports allowing diocesan priests to marry. "When you see the possible, I think people say 'Why can't I have that?'"

But Samaniego said Cutie's escapades on the beach don't help the cause.

"He may be calling attention to something, but at what cost?" Samaniego said. "People point their fingers and say 'See, see, see ... You can't trust a priest.'"

In South Florida, the Cutie drama appears to have helped erase the gap between white and Hispanic Catholics on celibacy. The poll of 400 Miami-Dade Catholics last week found that 74 percent of Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike opposed the requirement.

Cutie's popularity might have a lot to do with it.

Over lunch at a busy Cuban restaurant in Miami, 42-year-old real estate agent Isabel Montenegro said she was impressed with how Cutie has handled his issue.

Celibacy is a rule created by church officials, not God, said Montenegro, a Catholic who described herself as religious but someone who doesn't go to church as much as she would like.

"I think it's really an important issue that Catholic church officials desperately need to reconsider," she said. "We have to remember that Padre Alberto and all the others in the church are just like us. They think like us, they have emotions like us and they can fall in love like us."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Culture Notes: "En Pecado Mortal"

A play about celibacy -- or lack thereof, “En Pecado Mortal” (“In Mortal Sin”) will debut this July at the Byron Carlyle theatre in Miami Beach. As we learn from our friends at El Diario de Hoy (5/10/2009), ironically, Fr. Alberto Cutié was one of the first to read and approve this production:

The drama that will shortly* be staged at the Byron Carlyle Theatre in Miami Beach could well have been a warning for what, until last week, few would have imagined -- the work that inspired Father Alberto Cutié to reveal his clandestine romance.

It is true that Cutié’s admission that he loved Ruhama Buni Canellis, a 35-year old divorcee and mother of a 14-year old adolescent boy, came only after the scandal provoked by the publication of a series of photographs of both on a sunny beach in Florida.

But Wilson Blass, the Puerto Rican playwright, who also directs the staging of “En Pecado Mortal”, which stars Paul Quevedo from Mexico and Colombian actress Alejandra Pinzón, has no doubt that his work weighed heavily in the mental process of the 40-year old priest.

“He (Cutié) was the first to read and approve it,” in spite of its controversial theme, said Blass in an interview with El Diario de Hoy, accompanied by Quevedo and Pinzón.

Blass reiterated in the conversation that he based his work on true facts and combined the cases of two Puerto Rican priests – one of whom left the priesthood to marry one of his parishioners and the other, a homosexual pedophile subsequently assassinated by a gang of teenagers.

The relationship between Juan de Dios (Quevedo, from the soap opera Doña Bárbara) and Milagros (Pinzón, from the soap opera Sin Senos No Hay Paraíso) is colored by the same dilemna that would torment any priest in a similar situation – love God or love the woman, says Blass.

According to the writer, there is no doubt that Cutié, "saw himself (as he reviewed the original play). It’s his life, without my knowing it". An additional parallel, says Blass: “The two priests (on which the theatrical work is based) are known to Father Cutié." In spite of the similarities, it is a stretch to say that there is an absolute parallel between “En Pecado Mortal” and the life of the famous priest, who millions know not for his pastoral work but for his presence in front of the TV cameras.

In contrast to the real case of Cutié, Juan de Dios’ love interest in the play is a 17-year old adolescent. And the homosexual priest also shows up, portrayed by Guatemalan actor Antonio Muñoz.

The scandal around the priest who the North American media calls “Father Oprah” could generate a greater incentive for Miamians to attend the Byron Carlyle when the two weeks of performances of this work begin.

Quevedo, who could well portray the telegenic Padre Alberto in front of the cameras if the story ever gets to the screen, says the work rests on its own merits.

“They are unique personae. It is an opportunity to show the public what one is made of as an actor, far beyond acting in front of cameras and an audience of millions,” the Mexican said.

Pinzón —who plays a prostitute in Sin Senos No Hay Paraíso, a radically distinct role from the virginal Milagros— says that she has a “sixth sense to appreciate the work” and the more lasting impact it could have on her career.

* It is interesting that all of the articles we found seemed to suggest that the play would come out shortly and yet, according to the theatre Web site, it is not scheduled until July...perhaps a strategic "delay"?

Photo: The lead actors in their regular soap opera roles.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Divided: Priesthood vs. celibacy

By Oliver Kerr
Miami Herald
5/10/2009

I am a married Catholic priest who has watched with sadness the controversy over Father Alberto Cutié. I was ordained for the Archdiocese of Miami in 1964 and arrived in Miami in the summer of that year.

Over the next seven years I worked in several parishes in Miami, including four formative years at St. Francis Xavier in Overtown. The Overtown neighborhood was broken in those years with a great loss of housing FROM the construction of the I-95/I-395 interchange and the urban renewal/land clearing activities of the government.

At that time I lived above the St. Vincent de Paul salvage store on Miami Avenue and Eighth Street and attempted with some success to get new housing built in and around the church.

Forty-seven new town houses were built on Northeast 20th Street and Fifth Avenue in cooperation with three other churches in the area.

Later, with the same churches and the addition of Temple Israel, 151 cooperative apartments were built around the church on Northwest 17th Street and Fourth Avenue. This was a part of the community-building work that I loved.

In the summer, five or six seminarians for the archdiocese lived with me above the salvage store in a converted rooming house and spent several weeks running a popular summer in the city arts and recreation program for Overtown children whether they were church members or not.

In addition to the seminarians, there were many volunteers from other parishes and Barry University who contributed time and talent to the program day by day. We were busy from dawn to dusk, and came back to the rectory each day tired, hungry, and happy.

Again, we were helping to build a community that had suffered greatly. The work was hard but rewarding.

It was there that I met the woman who would eventually become my wife.

When I found myself becoming attracted to her, I realized that I had a big decision to make -- marry and leave the active priesthood or move away. I decided to move away and give myself some time and space I needed to reflect on this. I went to Archbishop Coleman Carroll and informed him of my decision. I had already obtained a fellowship that would cover educational costs and living expenses at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., so that I could support myself.

The archbishop was not happy with my request, but we parted agreeing to pray for each other.

Within a few months I had made up my mind to resign from the active ministry and get married.

It was an agonizing decision. On the one hand, I wanted to continue to serve as a priest doing the parish work that I loved. On the other, I felt that I wanted to be a man fully alive and to create a family just like the one I grew up in.

The celibate life that seemed tough but achievable when I was in my early 20s, 10 years later seemed to lead inevitably to an increasingly lonely life and a diminishing range of emotions.

It was a decision that I have not regretted.

Now in my retirement years I can look back and see God's love for me reflected in my life experiences.

I grew up in a strong Catholic family, the oldest of seven children. Working as a priest, particularly in the inner city, was a dream come true. The loneliness of celibacy and the loss of a family life was a burden.

Today, I am the proud father of five children, two of whom are adopted. God has certainly blessed me and blessed my children who are now setting out on their own journeys. May the road rise to meet them!

I have watched this past week as Father Cutié was caught up in controversy over his affection for a woman.

I have no doubt that optional celibacy would attract a wider range of young men into the priesthood today.

It may be time to return to the early practice of the church and make celibacy optional again. St. Peter and many of Christ's disciples were married men. This practice prevailed to the middle ages and still is in the Eastern rite Catholic churches where priests can be married.

I hope and pray that the Church will change this rule and make celibacy an option for men who chose to follow God's call to the priesthood.

Oliver Kerr, ordained as a priest, is a former county planner for Miami-Dade.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Celibacy debate still rages over popular priest who strayed with divorced woman

And an article that quotes our own Father Rich!!!

By David Adams
The St. Petersburg Times
Originally published 07:20 a.m., May 13, 2009
Updated 07:20 a.m., May 13, 2009

MIAMI — For the past decade, he was the face of the modern Roman Catholic Church in South Florida.

A dashing priest and charismatic TV talk show host, his Cuban heritage and bilingual skills made Father Alberto Cutié the perfect package for a church struggling to find new recruits.

Then a week ago, photos appeared in the tabloid press showing Cutié entwined in the sand with a 35-year-old divorced woman. One photo showed his hand down the back of her single-piece bathing suit, while another showed them kissing at a beachfront bar.

The photos left little in doubt regarding the status of his priestly vows of celibacy. The Catholic Church quickly relieved Cutié (pronounced KOO-tee-ay) of his duties at St. Francis de Sales on Miami Beach, as well as the church radio station. His weekly newspaper column was canceled.

But unlike most "fallen" priests who are quickly shuffled off into obscurity, Cutié is media savvy and has strong community ties. While he has yet to make a decision about his future, the celebrity status which the church happily helped foster over the past decade could convert him into a major thorn in its side.

"Because he's so publicly successful as a minister, and now so publicly conflicted, he's created a problem," said Richard Hasselbach, a former Franciscan in Carmel, N.Y., who was forced out after he decided to marry. "The church really has no mechanism to deal with this."

So far the Miami Archdiocese has chosen to abide strictly by church rules. "Father Cutié made a promise of celibacy, and all priests are expected to fulfill that promise with the help of God," wrote Miami Archbishop John Favalora (formerly the bishop in the Diocese of St. Petersburg).

But the photos — 25 in all — have ignited a long-standing debate over celibacy, and the church's refusal to allow priests to have sex and marry. In a Miami Herald poll, 77 percent said the Catholic Church should reconsider celibacy.

Priests are typically given two options, leave the priesthood or go into religious rehab. "You feel like a pariah," said Hasselbach. "The institution does everything in their power to isolate and discredit you. They tell you you can't preach anymore."

Hasselbach retrained as a lawyer, though he continues to minister as an independent priest, and belongs to CITI Ministries, a group of like-minded priests whose name stands for Celibacy Is The Issue. The group operates a Web site, Rent-A-Priest, and has an 800 number, with 250 members nationwide, drawn from an estimated 20,000 married priests in the United States with secular jobs.

Cutié, 40, has more options than most.

"The church needs to be very careful," said Joe Garcia, a prominent political activist and parishioner at one of the churches where Cutié served. "He could start his own congregation in a different denomination if he chose to. He could pull it off."

That's something the church can ill afford. The number of Catholic priests in the United States has fallen 30 percent in the past 40 years, according to studies. In 2008, more than 3,000 parishes were without resident priests.

Cutié would likely be loath to leave South Florida. He grew up in Miami and first made his name as a teen DJ, hosting a weekly music show on public radio. His rise was meteoric after joining the church, filling pews and collection trays wherever he went.

He also hosts his own Oprah-like TV show, Padre Alberto, for which the church receives an honorarium from the TV stations that broadcast it.

A potential tell-all book deal could become a bible for the anti-celibacy cause. He already has one bestseller under his belt, aptly titled, Real Life, Real Love.

Dozens of Cutié's supporters turned out at an emotional rally in Miami Beach on Thursday, carrying posters and chanting: "I admire, respect and forgive Father Alberto."

His defiance, though, has riled some who say he let the church down by not coming forward before he was caught on the beach.

In his first TV interview last week, Cutié was asked if he felt any guilt. "Do I feel bad, horrible? No. I am a man. Under this cassock there are pants," he said.

Photo: Parishioner expresses her support for Padre Alberto

Monday, May 11, 2009

What Padre Alberto actually said on the "Early Show"

I've already seen several erroneous stories that have distorted Fr. Alberto's words this morning in an attempt at pigeonholing him so here it is, straight from the source. And you can click on the title link and scroll to the bottom of the page if you want to see the video segment:

Priest In Racy Photos: I Had Sex With Her
May 11, 2009

(CBS) The celebrity priest at the center of a storm sparked by photos of him in a romantic embrace with a woman on the sands of Miami Beach admits he's had sex with her.

Father Alberto Cutié sat down for his first television interview since the scandal began on The Early Show Monday.

The photos -- 25 in all -- have almost single-handely reignited the debate over the celibacy required of priests by the Catholic Church and the Church's refusal to allow priests to marry.

In the exclusive interview, Cutié -- who wasn't wearing his priest's clothes -- told co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez a longtime friendship with the woman became romantic about two years ago, adding that they're in love.

He says he's mulling his next move, which he says could range from breaking up with her to marrying her. The woman, he indicated, wants to marry him.

Conceding he's become "kind of a poster boy" for the debate over priests being celibate, Cutié said priestly celibacy is good, but should be optional.

Overall, he said he's "deeply sorry" about all that's happened.

Rodriguez disclosed last week that her family in Miami Beach has known Cutié well for many years.

Cutié, a handsome, charismatic TV talk show host, radio personality, newspaper columnist and author known to many as "Father Oprah" is seen in images in the Spanish-language magazine TV NOTAS caressing and kissing a woman. Both were in bathing suits. Sources tell CBS station WFOR-TV in Miami the photos were taken in February.

The Archdiocese of Miami has relieved Cutié of his duties at his church and taken him off the air, but many of his parishioners turned out at an emotional rally in Miami Beach on Thursday backing him.

He candidly conceded to Rodriguez Monday, ""I don't support the breaking of the celibacy promise. I understand fully that this is wrong.

"I don't want to be the anti-celibacy priest. I think that's unfortunate. I think it's a debate that's going on in our society, and now I've become kind of a poster boy for it. But I don't want to be that. I believe that celibacy is good, and that it's a good commitment to God. This is something I've struggled with. And something that I never expected to become a public debate.

" ... What many say is that maybe it should be optional. And that I do believe: I do believe that people should be given the option to marry or not to marry in order to serve God. But the Church, see, has tradition and practices that are part of wanting to do what is right. I think we've all have ideals, and we have ways of living, and we want to do things right. But the truth is, sometimes we fall short. And I fell short."

Cutié said the woman in ths photos "is someone that I love. ... I entered the seminary 22 years ago. And in 22 years I've never had a sexual relationship with anyone. I committed myself fully to my vows. I've never been sexually inappropriate with anyone. I've never had any type of scandal. This is the only person that I've had sexual contact with.

"I believe I've fallen in love. And I believe that I've struggled with that. You know, between my love for God and my love for the church and my love for service. Of course, it's something that a man should never have to deal with in the sense of his commitment, you know. If I was clear in my commitment, I should have stuck to it 100 percent. And I didn't."

Cutie added he and the woman have "both struggled" with their relationship: "She's also a woman of faith. She's also somebody who cares about the priesthood, who cares about these things. So, it hasn't been easy. And those who have helped me through this process know it hasn't been easy. Obviously, you know, through the photos, it looked like a frivolous thing on the beach, you know, and that's not what it is. It's something deeper than that."

Also, he said bluntly, "The truth is there was no one on the beach. It was a very isolated beach."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Poll: Cutié's popularity still strong, most Catholics oppose celibacy rule

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.

Florida priest's ouster renews celibacy debate

Father Brooks, one of the married priests who is quoted in this article, is a CITI member in Florida.

By Jane Musgrave
Palm Beach Post
Saturday, May 09, 2009

When Tom Brooks left the priesthood, he wrote the pope a simple letter.

"I got married. I'm willing to serve. Let me know when you're ready to use me."

He never heard back. And, in truth, the 64-year-old Tequesta resident said he didn't expect the Vatican to respond to a wayward priest who had traded his holy vows for the love of a woman.

"I had no intention of falling in love," he said of the surprise turn his life took nearly 20 years after his ordination. Although realizing there was little chance the church would welcome him back by lifting its centuries-old dictate that requires priests to be celibate, Brooks is among a growing number of Catholics who believe the edict just doesn't make sense.

Church leaders trace celibacy's origins to the portrayal of Jesus as celibate and in the conviction that a priest's role as spiritual teacher requires single-minded dedication.

"I think we'd have happier, more effective priests if there were married priests," said the Rev. Donald Cozzens, a celibate priest, author and university professor who tried to spur debate about the issue by penning the 2006 book Freeing Celibacy.

The debate got a boost last week when an attractive Miami Beach priest was caught on camera rolling on the beach in the arms of a woman. In contrast with previous debates that came after priests were booked on charges of molesting boys, the Rev. Alberto Cutié's dalliance was with a consenting adult.

To some priests, who have made the difficult decision to leave the church or have watched others struggle to remain chaste, Cutié's situation is both regrettable and avoidable.

"I'm just sad that a man who is apparently a good, talented, committed priest is in the spot that he is," said Cozzens, who teaches religious studies at John Carroll University in Ohio. "I know a lot of good priests who are struggling with celibacy. It's more the loneliness than the absence of a full sexual life. The time is coming for us to openly discuss optional celibacy."

It's not just about making life easier for priests, he said.

Pope Benedict XVI has acknowledged that the church is suffering a shortage of priests worldwide. In the United States, from 1965 to 2008, the number of Catholics skyrocketed, but the number of priests fell 30 percent to 40,580, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. In 2008, more than 3,000 parishes were without resident priests. The reason priesthood is no longer a top career choice is simple, Cozzens said.

"I teach at a Catholic university and I've asked dozens of men here that showed signs of deep faith if they had thought about going into the priesthood," Cozzens said. "They all said, 'I've thought of it, but I want to have a family.' "

Although not pretending to know the motivations of each man who enters the priesthood, the Rev. Alfredo Hernandez said he can't imagine that celibacy is a deal-breaker. It is one of the many sacrifices a priest makes.

"A priest is called to represent the church as the bride of Christ," said the pastor of St. Juliana Catholic Church in West Palm Beach. "I can't pretend it has always been easy, but I see the gift of self as extremely important."

To abandon it would reduce the sanctity of the priesthood and compromise a priest's position as a man who operates without self-interest, he said.

He sees the debate as an illustration of a wider problem. "We're allergic to the idea of commitment in our society today," he said.

Palm Beach Diocese Bishop Gerald Barbarito said in a statement Friday that celibacy is a great gift and blessing for priests, the church and society.

"A particular priest's human failing in regard to living his fidelity to celibacy should not call into question the joyful gift of celibacy anymore than a particular person's infidelity to his or her spouse should call into question the joyful gift of marriage," the statement said.

Some see the policy as tracing back to the church's concern about priests bequeathing their homes to their wives and children. Celibacy ensured the property stayed with the church.

The Rev. Martin Zlatic said his wife of 17 years likes to tell people he left the church to marry her. It sounds romantic, but the reasons were far more complex, said Zlatic, pastor of St. Joseph's Episcopal Church in Boynton Beach.

Assigned to a church in his hometown of St. Louis, he was in charge of writing annulments for couples who wanted to divorce. He began to question the practice and other Catholic teachings. Further, he said, his living situation was untenable. As a 26-year-old, he said he was forced to live in a rectory with priests in their 70s and 80s, one of whom was an alcoholic. The bishop refused his request to move.

"As a priest you have to do your job with a joyful heart and then you go home and face that. It's very difficult," he said.

He left the priesthood in 1985 and worked in the travel industry and as a corporate marketing executive before he became an ordained Episcopal priest in 1998.

Brooks also said that celibacy didn't push him from the church. He has a degree in psychology and was assigned to write a program to help priests who had been accused of child molestation and to keep others from following in their footsteps. Realizing how widespread it was and how long it had gone on unchecked tested his faith, he said.

He took a leave of absence from the Redemptorist order in Chicago. After moving to Tequesta, he intended to join the Diocese of Palm Beach. Instead, he fell in love and got married.

But he continues to serve as a priest through the group CITI Ministries. Once known as Celibacy Is The Issue, it is now known as Rent-A-Priest and has an 800 number. Louise Haggett, who now lives in Maine, founded it in 1992 after a shortage of priests made it impossible for her to find a cleric to visit her mother.

There are now about 250 priests who left the church after they married who visit the sick and perform the Eucharist, weddings, funerals, baptisms and first Communions. They are among an estimated 20,000 married priests in the United States who now have secular jobs.

She said it's a shame that such committed men have been forced to leave the church simply because they fell in love.

Steve Sabanos, a priest turned accountant, is among them.

Ordained in 1974, he left the church five years later when he married. Becoming an Episcopal priest wasn't an option for him, he said. "I'm Roman Catholic to the core."

Still, he said, there should be room in the church for priests who get married.

"I realized I didn't have the gift of celibacy, but that doesn't mean I don't have the gift of priesthood."

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Father Alberto Cutie

As we reported yesterday, the well-known Hispanic priest and media celebrity Father Alberto Cutié was caught on film necking with a woman on a public beach in Miami. The photos have come out in this week's edition of TV Notas. Padre Alberto was promptly confronted by the Archdiocese of Miami and took a voluntary leave of absence from his role as priest at St. Francis de Sales parish in Miami Beach and from his archdiocesan communication functions at Radio Paz. Padre Alberto took down his Web site and replaced it with a terse bilingual statement:

"Before God - full of love and mercy - I ask for the forgiveness of those who may be hurt or saddened by my actions. Since I entered the seminary at the age of 18, the priesthood has brought me great joy. The commitment that I made to serve God will remain intact. I am grateful for the love and support I have received today from so many in our community, especially my parishioners and the supporters of the radio stations who have demonstrated great compassion and understanding toward me as a human being. I ask for your continued prayers and support."
But, only days before the damaging photos appeared, Padre Alberto gave an interview with a Spanish-language TV program (see video below) in which he spoke out in favor of optional celibacy. He alluded to Cardinal Egan's recent statements on the subject, implying that it was easy to call for it after you were retired but that he was going to risk disciplinary action by advocating it while still in the priesthood. He said that the Church is far more concerned about sex than God is, that "some women like forbidden fruit", and that if celibacy were optional -- as he thinks it should be -- he would like to get married and have a family.

In conjunction with the articles about the issue, several newspapers conducted online polls on whether the celibacy requirement should be lifted. Here are the current results:

Miami Herald:

Should the Catholic Church reconsider celibacy for priest?
Yes: 1042 - 77%
No: 270 - 20%
Maybe: 33 - 2%

Sun Sentinel:

It is time to reconsider celibacy in the priesthood?
Yes: 3736 - 79.8%
No: 818 - 17.5%
I don't know: 126 - 2.7%



Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Celibacy Issue in North America: Miami

I have no comment to make on this story except that one would think that a media-savvy celebrity priest like Fr. Alberto Cutié would have better sense than to get caught by paparazzi. Ironically, Fr. Cutié's book is called "Ama de Verdad, Vive de Verdad" ("Real Life, Real Love"). Maybe it's time for him to practice a little of what he is preaching.

Beach photos land priest Alberto Cutié in hot water with church

Miami Herald
5/5/2009

Popular Miami priest Alberto Cutié is scheduled to meet with Archbishop John Favalora to discuss photos that appear of the handsome priest in a Spanish-language television magazine, in which he supposedly is on the beach with a woman.

Cutié now faces possible removal from performing church functions at his parish, St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church on Miami Beach. Church leaders believe he violated his vow of chastity.

A source at the diocese, who asked to remain unnamed until a press release is issued, said the archbishop has called for a meeting with Cutié, who hosts a popular radio show on Radio Paz and writes an advice column in El Nuevo Herald.

Favalora issued a statement saying: ``I am deeply saddened by the news surrounding Father Alberto Cutié. I apologize on behalf of the church in Miami to the parishioners of St. Francis de Sales Parish, where he serves as administrator, to the listeners and supporters of Radio Paz and Radio Peace, and to the entire Archdiocese.

``Father Cutié made a promise of celibacy and all priests are expected to fulfill that promise with the help of God.

``Father Cutié's actions cannot be condoned despite the good works he has done as a priest. I ask for everyone's prayers at this time. Scandals such as this offer an occasion for the church on all levels to examine our consciences regarding the integrity of our commitments to the Lord and to his church.''

Isabel Bucaram-Montana, communications director for Spanish Broadcasting System's Mega TV, said that about a month and a half ago a paparazzi came to the station with a video of Cutié and tried to sell it for six figures.

She said Mauricio Gerson, vice president of programming, viewed the tape and it indeed showed Cutié on the beach with the woman, but the station decided against paying for it.

''They wanted six figures, and we were not going to pay,'' Bucaram-Montana said. `We did not feel two or three days worth of ratings were worth it.''

She said the sellers told the station that they had been shopping the video to other local stations.

Celibacy Issue in Latin America - Pt 2: Argentina

This is a translation of an article “El 75% de los curas quieren celibato optativo” (“Seventy-five percent of priests want optional celibacy”) by Josefina Licitra from Crítica Digital, 4/19/2009. Ironically, after this article was published, the press came out with the story of another priest from the Mendoza archdiocese, Alberto Ortega (60, see photo), who has left the priesthood to marry his partner who is expecting their baby in three months. Ortega has another child already with the same woman. He was ordained in 2000 and served in Santa Ana parish in Guaymallén. As is usual in these cases, the parishioners said that Ortega was a good priest and they were satisfied with his services and knew nothing of his personal life.

Just like Adam and Eve who were cast out of Paradise into the temporal world, the former bishop and current president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, is falling into the basement of a life that was not at all in his plans. The leap into space happened last April 6th – Easter Monday – when he was forced to admit publicly that he had fathered a son – and had maintained a long romantic relationship – while he was serving as prelate in the Catholic Church. And the hard landing ended a few days ago, when Lugo showed that not even a president, not even a former bishop, escapes from the classic farce of “separated with children”: now he has to pay support for his child – 2 year old Guillermito, he has to shut the mouth of Guillermito’s mother – who doesn’t stop talking to the press, and he has to let a volunteering member of his family – in this case his brother Pompeyo Lugo – come forward to say that he, Fernando, is still a good guy. “Celibacy is torture”, Pompeyo Lugo then said in defense of his blood relative, and with that sentence he reopened a debate that for several years has convulsed the Catholic Church intermittently: the meaning of celibacy in the 21st century.

According to sociologist Pedro Gorondi, who is responsible for several surveys on the subject ordered by the Argentinian Bishops’ Conference, 75% of those consulted (Lay people, bishops, and priests) are in favor of the so-called “gift from God” being optional. Also, during the Latin American Bishops’ Conference meeting in Brazil in 2007, the bishops put out a communique where they acknowledged for the first time the lack of priests and seminarians and that the reason for this decline was strictly related to sexual restriction. “Each time they find less and less meaning in it”, Gorondi says. The argument is: If so much importance is given to love and to the family in the Church, why oblige priests to live such a lonely and depressing life? These situations of forced isolation end up pushing them and conditioning them to have relationships, children on the sly, and all sorts of other practices that the Pope doesn’t want to have happen.”

Because of all this, in 2004 – three years before the Latin American Conference meeting took place –Brazilian priests scandalized the world by making public – through a survey ordered by the National Bishops’ Conference of Brazil – that 41% of them admitted to having violated their celibacy vow. In spite of this, 48% thought that the restriction was important and 41% thought that it should be optional. “It’s common, especially in small towns, that people know the children of the priests, who are called “nephews”, and the woman of the priest,” Luis Antonio de Souza, the author of the study, added. “People take it naturally.”

In Paraguay, the people have not taken the “Lugo affair” so lightly. Since the story came out, the positive image of the president has fallen 16 points, from 64.14% to 48.04 percent.

This is not talked about. Jesus never talked about celibacy. In fact, it was recently in the 16th century, at the Council of Trent, that the Catholic Church established that the holy function of celebrating the Mass could only be performed by men controlled and regulated in their relationship to God. From then on, the Roman Church has carried on its shoulders a latent debate, that began to stir in the 20th century. Not to mention the twenty-first century. “It’s time for a full discussion of the idea of optional celibacy, since it’s a very personal spiritual decision of conscience,” José María Poirier Lalanne, expert on religion and editor of the Catholic magazine Criterio, opines. “The continuation of obligatory celibacy shows that we have an authoritarian Church, one that is out of touch and not involved in the times in which we are living – a perspective that without a doubt is having a negative impact on young people who have a religious vocation,” adds Guillermo Mariani, a priest who is known for having published a book, “Sin tapujos. La vida de un cura” (“Out in the open: the life of a priest”), that in 2004 reopened the debate on sexual restrictions.

But neither of these opinions appears to twist the Pope’s arm. In November 2006, shortly after he took power, Benedict XVI convened the cardinals of the Roman Curia to talk about the subject. There were more than enough reasons: the African rebel archbishop Emmanuel Milingo had ordained four married men as priests, and at the same time had launched the Married Priests Now movement. Once he was before the church dome, Benedict was clear: no more talk of optional celibacy, he said. And – in the Vatican – there was no more talk.

But there was talk in other countries. In Argentina, for example, several priests got married. The most public cases were Leonardo Belderrain (a pastor from La Plata who left the priesthood to get married), Luis Armendáriz (a priest from Mendoza who became a father but who continues to celebrate Mass to this day in the province of Buenos Aires), and especially Jerónimo Podestá, the first bishop to unleash a scandal – when he fell in love with Clelia Luro – 39, separated with six daughters – he left the institutional church – he was suspended ad divinis, as was Belderrain – and he founded the Federación Latinoamericana de Sacerdotes Casados (Latin American Federation of Married Priests).

“Many bishops are asking for optional celibacy, because many worthy people are leaving”, says Clelia Luro, the widow of Podestá, who died nine years ago, “ But the Church doesn’t become more flexible for a variety of reasons. One is economic: if priests could marry, at their death they would leave no personal inheritance for the Church. And another one is even more basic: when a priest starts to live his own life, he grows up and becomes free. It is very difficult to run a pyramidal institution full of free men. I know that the debate will come up some time. An intelligent Pope has to come along, and it’s not this Pope. But, fortunately, nobody is eternal.”