I have just finished reading Dilemma: A Priest's Struggle with Faith and Love, by Father Alberto Cutie. Padre Alberto, famous in the Southeastern United States and in much of Latin America for his work in the media, particularly in television, was propelled to international notoriety when pictures of the Roman Catholic priest and his girlfriend lying on a Miami beach appeared on the Internet and in tabloid and mainstream newspapers in early 2009. Removed from active ministry and deprived of salary and benefits, Cutie subsequently joined the Episcopalian (Anglican) Church and now serves as a priest in a Miami parish. He and his girlfriend were married and now have a daughter.
Dilemma tells the story of Father Cutie's journey of receiving the call to the priesthood from God and becoming a a very busy and active priest, both as pastor of various parishes and as media personality. It describes his increasing awareness of and concern over dysfunction in the Catholic Church, particularly among clergy and the hierarchy. And it tells the story of how Fr. Cutie was suddenly faced with an almost unbearable challenge to his promise of celibacy when he met and fell in love with Ruhama, the woman who would eventually become his wife.
The story of this priest's struggle was not as interesting to me as was the view of a Church insider of its serious state of dysfunction and of the disconnection between the institutionalized Catholicism as reflected in the attitudes and actions of the hierarchy and the real lives of the people in the pews. Father Cutie knew many priests who were cast aside by their bishop upon even the slightest suspicion of misconduct and with no opportunity to prove their innocence. He and his parishioners experienced the cold shoulder of the archbishop in times of great need. For example, in 2002 he was appointed temporary administrator of a very large parish whose "hugely popular, charismatic" pastor had been removed after allegations of sexual abuse.
Four months into my job as administrator at San Isidro, I finally went to my bishop to find out how much longer I would have to stay at the megachurch. He assured me that I would only be there a few more months. Instead, I remained assigned there for nearly two full years, working fifteen hours a day.The idealism of this young priest, including a commitment to live a life of celibacy, was gradually eroded by what he observed and what he experienced in ministry. He knew and knew of many priests, bishops, and even cardinals who secretly kept girlfriends or boyfriends, some even maintaining separate residences so that they could live with their partners. His own situation, in which he truly loved being a priest while loving a woman at the same time, made him question the wisdom of the requirement for celibacy. And through the problems and questions of the thousands of people he came into contact with in his parochial and media ministries, he began to question other Church doctrines and policies.
What was most disappointing to me is that never again in those two years did the bishop speak to me. Not once! He never visited the parish, called, or asked how the San Isidro church was doing or how the parishioners felt. There was no discussion about what the game plan should be for the future of this important parish, either.
Finally, after a few more months had gone by, I called his priest secretary - a young monsignor - to ask when we could expect the archbishop to visit; I still thought that he might be planning to speak to the hurting flock and to listen to their pain regarding their ousted pastor. The secretary's response was curt: "I'm sure the archbishop will visit San Isidro the next time that he is scheduled for Confirmation."
I couldn't believe it. Church officials were acting as if nothing special at all had happened in that parish, despite the blaze of bad press and the obvious knowledge that the people this pastor had served were feeling shattered. Never mind the fact that I had been thrown into this situation to face the press and the parish with zero support. I knew that I'd get through everything with a lot of prayer and help from people in the parish, many of whom were wonderfully understanding. What bothered me more was that Church officials obviously felt no real need to face the people of this parish, who were hungry for answers and wanted to know about the future of their spiritual home. These people had invested a lot of their time and resources into this megachurch, yet the officials of the archdiocese ran from them like the plague.
Again, I had to observe that this removed, rigid, and dysfunctional way of conducting business was all too common for the Church. It appeared as if those in positions of authority seemed determined to keep their distance from anything - or anyone - that might contaminate them or hurt their chances of continuing to climb the Church ladder. Until the time these incidents occurred, I was convinced that bishops were shepherds with a spiritual and [pastoral role to fulfill. Unfortunately, what I saw were Church leaders who ran and hid from difficult situations, including those which needed them the most.
Father Cutie's book is a passionate, generally reasoned, and ultimately devastating critique of a Church that desperately needs reform. His decision to leave the Church he grew up in and loves reflects, apart from the fallout of the scandal he created, his view that such reform will not be quickly forthcoming.
If I have one criticism of this book, and it is not a small one, it is that Father Cutie never fails to present himself as a kind of ideal priest and as a victim of the dysfunctional hierarchy. While both of these may be true to a great degree, this approach detracts from the credibility of the story enough to diminish the effect of what I regard to be the true value of this book, a view of the rot from the inside.
Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile read.