Padre Alberto's fall from Roman Catholic grace has all the makings of a TV movie and, unfortunately, all the trappings of a circus. Alberto Cutié, the charismatic 40-year-old priest and book author, was captured frolicking on a Florida beach with a woman — their pictures on the cover of a Mexican magazine sold here. He has stepped down from his Miami Beach church, immediately apologizing for his misbehavior but vowing to keep serving the Lord.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Miami, which has rightly come under fire for years for taking its sweet time to investigate allegations of child abuse among pedophile priests, worked quickly to strip Cutié of his duties while he prays and contemplates his future.
By Thursday, just two days after the bad news hit, there was pushing and shoving during a small morning rally in support of Padre Alberto outside his South Beach church, St. Francis de Sales.
By the afternoon there were reporters camped outside the home of the supposed mystery woman, said to be a 35-year-old single mother and perhaps a member of the church.
I don't know where the truth lies, but the heart aches. This is so painful for those of us who have long admired Padre Alberto because, really, who are we to cast stones?
For the most part, Miami's Spanish-language talk radio and TV shows have been sympathetic, recalling all his good works and lamenting that the Catholic Church requires celibacy of the clergy.
Over and over again, callers have said: He may be a priest, but he's still a man. The church rule is the problem, not the priest.
Maybe so, but what happened to personal responsibility?
Had Padre Alberto gone to his bishop as soon as he felt like straying from his vows, he would have been honest with himself, God and the church.
The bishop, during ordination, solemnly warns the candidates for priesthood: "You may still, if you choose, turn to the aims and desires of the world. But if you receive this order it will no longer be lawful to turn back from your purpose."
Padre Alberto long had championed celibacy as an option, not a requirement.
In truth, it's not church dogma, such as the divinity of Jesus Christ or the Holy Trinity. It's a rule required centuries ago, in part because the Vatican worried that the priests' widows and children were taking riches from the church.
It's an outdated requirement in a church that is scrambling for priests and nuns, who also are to remain chaste. (I wonder if this were a scandal involving a pretty nun, would the community be so forgiving?)
While Catholics struggle with this latest scandal, Padre Alberto surely has options.
He can become an Episcopalian priest, for instance, where men and women — yes, they allow women to lead churches, praise Jesus! — can go to the beach and cuddle up and not be castigated because they can marry.
Episcopalian Bishop Leo Frade, who oversees the Southeast Florida Diocese of almost 300 priests (including five former Catholic priests) told me Thursday that he would welcome Padre Alberto with open arms.
The apostle Peter, after all, was married. The idea of celibacy is that a single man can devote his entire life to his flock.
"I say, sure, he or she will have more time, but a single person will have to spend a lot more time than our clergy turning away God's gifts, suppressing their sexuality," Frade said. "We have chaste priests. That's okay. That's their prerogative."
© Miami Herald