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.