Priests Should be Corrected Before it Comes to This

The big scandals that rock the Catholic Church do not happen overnight. The dramatic infidelities of priests that attract major media attention occur after years of smaller infidelities. Sooner or later a priestly vocation comes crashing down only to cause a tidal wave of scandal and disappointment.

For Father Albert Cutié to wind up on a local beach with a woman and carry on like a college student on spring break only indicates that he lost it sometime before his scandalous behavior took place. Father should have recognized his problem and either gotten help or quietly left the ministry.

In the past, Father Alberto Cutié has been publicly critical of a celibate-only priesthood. Moreover, he has said that the Church is too obsessed about sex and that God looks on the entire human person without taking into consideration the morality of sexual behavior.

Although Father has publicly apologized for his actions and claims that he is not promoting a married clergy, he needs to stop being interviewed on television. He should go away quietly: leave the priesthood or go on retreat. Every man who is ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood in the Latin Rite knows that the charism of celibacy is part of the deal. The Latin Rite Church selects candidates for the priesthood from celibate men.

Celibacy is a special gift from the Holy Spirit. It is called a charism. It is a beautiful gift for the Church. The celibate priest, in and through his body; i.e., through his very physical reality, is a sign or a witness not only of his total gift of himself to his bride, the Church, but he is also physically, through his body, pointing the way to the eschatological reality of eternal life. “For when they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; no, they are like the angels in heaven” (Mark 12: 25).

Eternity is not only perfect communion with God it is also perfect communion with all men and women in the communion of saints. The charism of celibacy is a sign or an anticipation of this eschatological reality. Through the gift of celibacy, the human person is able to immerse himself in a fulfilling communion with God and with humanity here on earth.

The priest gives his entire being to God in the covenant of spiritual marriage. In the Mass, he takes bread and wine, and pronounces the words of Jesus: This is my body and this is my blood given for you. In turn, he then gives himself totally and unconditionally to his bride: This is my body and this is my blood given for you.

Father Alberto’s scandalous behavior has caused an explosion of debate and controversy: “Father is simply human”.

Yes, Father Alberto is human, but coherent human behavior requires maturity, authenticity and a well-formed conscience. His present actions are only confusing millions of his cult-like admirers. His continuous interviews are giving ammunition to the Church’s enemies to attack the priesthood.

Major scandals should not call into question the Church’s stand on priestly celibacy. Only the superficial and the immature will go there. However, we need to ask some hard questions.

What tools are given to Catholic seminarians so that they may properly discern if they really do have the charism of celibacy? What kind of spiritual formation are they being given in order to live out a deep spiritual life when they become priests? What support does a Bishop give to his priests? What support do priests give to each other? What support do parishioners give to their priest?

My long experience has shown me that there are serious deficiencies in all of these areas.

How many bishops have lunch or dinner with their priests? How many priests reach out to their brothers? How many parishioners remember their priests at Christmas time, the anniversary of their ordination, or on their birthday?

How do we honestly expect a normal heterosexual man to live out the charism of celibacy with fidelity and elegance in this hedonistic world left on his own?

For the most part, celibacy is like the elephant in the room.

Is it really true that many priests in Latin America and the Philippines have children and grandchildren? How extensive is this problem here at home? If there really is a huge problem, then the Church needs to get real: let’s fix the problem with good formation, holy bishops, holy priests and strong community life among bishops and priests.

But, let’s not ignore the elephant in the room.

People should not be surprised that for many priests, the charism of celibacy is lived out within normal struggles and difficulties. Sexual and emotional integration does not happen in a vacuum. Years of formation and asceticism will equip a celibate priest to live out his priestly vocation with joy and enthusiasm. But, chastity is a struggle for everyone, even for those who are married.

Original innocence was lost by Adam and Eve. The human person will never have complete control of the psychic, sexual and emotional dimensions of his existence. There will always be some kind of a thorn in the flesh to deal with. Grace and years of struggle allow for transformation to take place. But, there will always be a struggle. Only the eschatological man will experience total bodily integration.

If a priest has a problem, he needs to get help. Spiritual direction, counseling, retreats, therapy and sabbatical programs are readily available for those who are honest about their virtues and vices.

But, in the case of Father Alberto, his superiors should have already corrected his public pronouncements about sexuality and celibacy. The Church should have suspected that something ambiguous was hiding behind the mask of Father Alberto’s cult-like popularity. Once again, just like in other scandals, someone was asleep at the switch and another train wreck has occurred.

Finally, it would be unfair to Fr. Alberto to compare his situation to homosexual abusers. That would be like comparing apples and oranges. Father’s struggle is with sin and commitment. The abuser is guilty of a terrible crime. However, both situations must be dealt with firmly and quickly by Church authorities.

And here lies the root of the problem. Bishops need to shepherd their priests. They need to know who they are. They need to pray with them. They need to eat with them. They need to listen and talk to them. They need to form a true brotherhood with them. If Bishops and priests learn to live and work together as true Christian brothers, the Church will once again flourish and scandalous behaviors will be replaced by a spring time of holiness.

By

Fr. James Farfaglia is the pastor of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, TX. His Sunday homilies and blog can be found at http://www.fjicthus.com. You can contact Father James at fjficthus@gmail.com.

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  • http://www.ruah.stblogs.com fiatlux

    I wanted to thank Father for such a fine analysis and fraternal correction in this situation. However, his email bounced back as “disabled.” What’s up?

    Thank you Father for your vocation, and keep the faith!

  • http://www.jficthus.com Fr. James Farfaglia

    Thanks for the comment. My email address is fjicthus@gmail.com. You can read my homilies and blog posts at http://www.fjicthus.com. A lot of prayer and penance is needed for Father Alberto. I am amazed that he has been allowed to appear so often on television dressed as a priest. This major scandal should be openly corrected by his Bishop. It is not enough just to remove him from his parish. The Bishop should publicly forbid him from TV appearances. On Tuesday night he appeared for an hour long prime-time program on Univision, a major Spanish language TV station. God help us. The battle continues.

  • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com Arkanabar Ilarsadin

    Fr. James, I’d like to thank you for your lucid explanation of the gift of celibacy. I had not previously encountered it.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    His bishop very publicly removed Father Alberto from his parish. Spanish language TV has commented on the fact that he will be headed to a meditation center for the immediate future. His CBS interview might seem to suggest otherwise. His bishop has not been silent, merely drowned out.

    I agree that his bishop could do more, but the minimum public correction, it seems to me, has already been done. Moreover, if he is laicized, then he won’t stop being charismatic. His several years on Telemundo (another U.S. Spanish language network) and Radio Paz won’t be expunged. He’ll continue to be an interview magnet, and at that point, the Church will be able to do nothing — unless She starts speaking more publicly and convincingly about Her teachings. That brings me to another question (yours actually):

    How do we honestly expect a normal heterosexual man to live out the charism of celibacy with fidelity and elegance in this hedonistic world left on his own?

    I’ll respond by first observing that marriage is by far the most common adult state anticipated by Catholic teaching, and chastity within marriage is the Church’s formal expectation. Yet we do not teach this. Sure we allow some wacked-out NFP couple into a backroom once in a blue moon, where they, in turn, offer a vision of the Church’s genuine teaching to two or three equally wacked-out couples who have had the temerity to read (and not just read about) one of John Paul’s documents. But in my six or so years as a Catholic, I have never heard a homily on NFP at my parish. I know of two homilies, both on Humane Vitae, that were preached in that time in nearby parishes. But our parish-level catechesis is already broken on this matter. You would need a monthly homily (at the least) on Theology of the Body, human personalism, Natural Law, NFP, and the like, if you hoped to correct the matter. That simply is not forthcoming, and no bishop needs to intervene. Priests could do it on their own, if they had the will.

    Which leads me to another matter. Lots of NFP couples struggle with extended abstinence, prompted to postpone pregnancy for very good and very serious reasons (it is the seriousness that prompts the extended abstinence, especially in the two years or so after a birth). Literally months can go by for some men dedicated to NFP, in which they essentially live like celibate priests. So this leads me to another observation, again directed at the priests:

    If you are struggling with celibacy, you might seriously consider talking to one of the committed NFP men in your parish instead of ignoring him.

  • goral

    Thanks nfpdad for your most valid comments.
    There is simply a culture of hedonism rampant and mere corrections in “vacuums” won’t be effective. Fr. James is right on the mark.

    I get somewhat annoyed at prayerful souls indiscriminately resorting to reactions concerning all sinners, “let’s pray for him!”

    I agree.
    Let’s pray this prayer out of today’s Scripture reading:

    For it is written in the Book of Psalms:

    Let his encampment become desolate,
    and may no one dwell in it.
    and:
    May another take his office.

    In today’s Gospel Jesus says: “You did not choose me, I have chosen you”
    If I make the choice to do something, then I also have the choice not to do it.
    If one greater than me makes the choice for me then the penalty for disobedience is desolation.
    This concept is totally lost in the Buffet, Gates, Oprah, and Fr. Alberto culture.

    I also pray the same prayer for the Shepherds who are busy fighting the swine flu while the gate to their flock is left open.

    “May another take his office.”

  • Terri Kimmel

    I agree with HomeschoolNfpDad’s point that teaching on chastity is lost in every vocation, not just the priesthood. I think it’s the elephant in the room in every parish. Talking about marital chastity is even more taboo than talking about abortion because it directly effects most married couples. Pastors are afraid of ‘alienating’ their congregation.

    Married Catholics who are faithful to Church teaching and celibate priests are in the same boat. HomeschoolNfpDad is right. We can support one another.

  • Mary Kochan

    I see a connection between what NFPdad said to Fr. James and what I wrote in the Edge the other day about gardening and solidarity with the poor: http://catholicexchange.com/2009/05/12/118497/

    NFPdad is saying that there should be solidarity between the priests and faithful Catholic couples. Wouldn’t this extend then to teens and college students — and what about widows and widowers? — all single Catholics who are trying to live in chastity. Wouldn’t this include fighting for wholesomeness in entertainment media and fashions? Do we think in this kind of holistic way? Do we consider that patronizing movies with gratuitous sex scenes undermines the strength of our priests to live in celibacy. Do we consider what our daughters wear in front of priests? I am shocked to see at our Life Teen Mass some 16-year-old wearing a miniskirt standing with her back to the priest doing the reading. I’ve seen priests close their eyes or turn their eyes away. What are these girls and their parents thinking?! What disrespect! Our priests have been “set apart” in the way that God has always called out from among his people those who would be specially devoted to him for the service of the many. We dishonor that calling when we lazily or apathetically permit or even participate in what Father James called a hedonistic world.

  • http://www.jficthus.com Fr. James Farfaglia

    I am happy to see a good discussion going on. Here is a further point that I hope does not rock the boat too much, but it needs to be said. If we were to observe what Fr. Alberto has been saying over the years about celibacy and sexuality, anyone would be able to realize that Father is confused. Did anyone challenge or correct Father? I hate to bring attention to the fact that the Father Alberto situation is simply a symptom of a wider problem going on throughout the Catholic Church. For the most part, Bishops have no idea what is going on in the rectories of their dioceses. Priests have little or no accountability. If I were a bishop, I would be visiting the rectories, calling the priests, getting together with them all of the time. Do they have a prayer life? Do they have a spiritual director? Are they going on retreats? Are they fulfilling their parish duties? Are they answering their sick calls?
    There seems to be a dark, pervasive attitude among some bishops who seem to think the following: celibacy is impossible and it needs to go. In the meantime, if a heterosexual priest lives with or has a girlfriend on the side, that’s OK as long as no one complains about it. If a homosexual priest lives with a gay man or a gay priest, or has a boyfriend on the side, that’s OK too as long as no one complains about it. Only holy and zealous bishops will be able to reform the priesthood.
    At the same time, most lay Catholics have a very confused idea about a celibate priesthood. Most Catholics in this country think that priests should marry. Many believe that priests really aren’t celibate, that they have a girlfriend or a boyfriend on the side. In other words, the mindset of most of the Church is sick when it comes to sexuality. On the one hand we have the hedonists and on the other hand we have the jansenists. We need a serious renewal based upon the teachings of John Paul II – more TOB!

  • deirdrew

    I am shocked that this man was allowed to run around being so publicly flamboyant in the first place. Father Oprah? That’s the first clue, that he’s writing so much about relationships. I hate to say this in a sense, but there’s a bias, on the part of the Church, that he was allowed to do this because he’s ‘Latin.’ And it was interesting to see how he acted on the regular US channels, and how different he was on the Spanish channels. I also believe he had his collar on there. He needs to be reined in, yesterday.

    There’s a level of maturity, seriousness and commitment that was missing with this man a long time ago.

  • deirdrew

    MKochan, I agree with what you’re saying for the most part – but it’s not about the priest in my opinion. It’s more about the respect a girl has for herself, and the way she is being raised. Yes, she should not do that in church – but she spends such a short time in church, what predator will have his or her eyes on these young people?

    Young people need to be taught respect for themselves, and of course for the Church and God. But if they respect themselves, they won’t dress a certain way in church, or send photos of themselves as so many are now doing.

    Look at this young woman who is Miss USA. A Christian? I don’t want my Christians parading half naked in beauty pageants! God bless her, she needs our prayers. She is an example to others?

    I think Fr Cutie is an opportunist, sadly. I do not think he should remain a priest, and it should not be his decision. I am sorry to come across as judgemental, and hope I do not. The Church needs less opportunists, and more commitment to living the way Christ did.

  • gerimom

    I am wondering too about this woman who did not respect the priesthood enough to stay away from Fr. Cutie. She is at fault as well. For them to be together for two years, she had to be a willing partner. Shame on her!
    I myself have struggled with infatuation for a priest, but I will not put myself or him in an occasion of sin.

  • bkeebler

    There is a poverty of purity among many of our Shepherds (Protestant and Catholic). In saying this I risk lumping all priests and pastors into one lump which is not my intention (for many are Holy). Fr. James Farfaglia and Mary Kochan and others have voiced very well that we are a Body, the Body of Christ. We are united to each other and to the Church and to the Father and the Holy Spirit through Christ. We are not separate but united as One. We are all members of the same Body as Christ so clearly instructs us in Scripture. And so, what one part of the Body does will affect the whole, to its harm or to its help. So it is with all of us but especially with those who Christ has given to be Shepherds of the flock… to the one who many responsibilities/gifts are given so much is expected. What can I say, I am wounded; wounded by the ills of those who pierce the Church with corruption, with all sorts of impurities. But not just the Body is wounded, but Christ Himself is wounded. So we are in need of a physician, the great Physician our Lord Jesus Christ. We are wounded but not mortally, because Christ is with us. We as laity, and all those who are in authority, must bring to light those who would wound the Body (and bringing to light the Truth is not a wound in itself as some would say who want to hide in darkness). But no matter what we do as the Body we can not heal ourselves without the Head, without the Wisdom and Knowledge and Miracles of Christ. Christ has to be the center, not an after thought, but called upon as our Hope, our example, for we are so hungry for Holiness.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    Mary is absolutely right about the need for a more holistic view of chastity. A married man or woman abstaining from sex for a few months has nothing on a twenty-something single lady or single gentleman whose hormones are firing, and who is constantly being told that “it’s okay.” Some of our young people do so well in the face of evil! Others yield to temptation and then recover themselves, with the grace offered through the Sacraments. What is most remarkable about this is that few of these young ‘uns, and none of these married folks, have received the charism of celibacy — unless there is such a thing as a temporary charism (I do not know). Without the charism, these folks are living chastity including (at least for a few months or several years) celibate chastity.

    And chastity is the deeper Truth. Compared to chastity, celibacy is superficial — so much so that celibacy sounds like nonsense unless it is grounded in chastity. This is, of course, why we have crises like this. We need to teach — all those who live out the Faith need to teach. The poor bishop in south Florida is in a terrible spot: somehow he must discipline a priest to whom he seems to have taught so little. I don’t think it’s possible. Discipline requires a robust teacher; indeed discipline is derived from the Latin discipulus, meaning student. A student without a teacher is no student, and discipline will not work. In this society, the one who is disciplined will eventually leave the relationship, unless a genuine teacher provides the discipline.

    That doesn’t appear to be possible in this case. Too often we superficially welcome the tax collector, the Publican, and the prostitute without providing what Jesus provided to every sinner he encountered:

    1) He forgave the sin.
    2) He taught what was wrong, if it wasn’t obvious to the sinner.
    3) And finally, he taught how to live properly and demonstrated the joys of doing so.

    I don’t know how this is even possible at this point, but Holy Mother Church (and that includes all of us at this point) must figure out a way to sit down with folks like Father Alberto. We must figure out how to direct such folks to sacramental Reconciliation if we are not priests — or call them to Reconciliation if we are. Then we have to explain the wrong and demonstrate — with the example of our lives — the joys of the right.

    Discipline will do nothing until we get the teaching part right first.

  • jorge

    One of the things the Church is doing in order to prevent future scandals of these and related natures, is to conduct interviews and surveys with priests that have left the ministry due to scandal or have decided to leave for other reasons. The common denominator among the interviewed was that they all, 100%, had stop praying.
    I will assume, by the way Fr. Alberto (not Albert) speaks and refers to the Church handles the celibacy matter and the way he talks about his own ordeal, that he has stopped praying as well. Only a person that remains in prayer, even in the midst of struggle, can somehow, through Grace, deal with the struggle in a more sincere, Christian, graceful, and descrete way.
    The factor that gives the prayer life of these fallen priests away is the fact that it ended up in scandal. Only through fervent, humble, constant prayer scandal can be avoided, and of course sin.

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