Padre Alberto explains it all in new book; has new TV show

March 9, 2011

Father Albert Cutié

English-language audiences are about to start hearing regularly from Father Alberto Cutié. The popular and controversial Latino priest is set to launch a new television talk show on Fox sometime soon, called “Father Albert.”

Just last week, Cutié (pronounced Cue-tea-ay) was on CNN, giving his thoughts on the Supreme Court’s decision allowing the hatemongers from Fred Phelps’ family-church to continue their demented protests at military funerals.

“We have to revisit (the First Amendment), and we have to ask ourselves the question, what is the difference between free speech and disrespecting other people’s basic rights?” Cutié said. 

This is all part of a process to rehabilitate Cutié after his less than graceful exit from the Catholic Church.

For those who don’t have a clue who I’m talking about, Cutié was the first Roman Catholic priest ever to host a television talk show on a secular network; in this case, Telemundo. Eponymously titled, Padre Alberto’s Spanish-language show reached millions all over Latin America, frequently setting viewership records. His advice columns were read all over the world. His first book, Real Life Real Love, was a huge bestseller in Spanish and didn’t do too badly in English. In public, Father Albert was engaging, sympathetic but loyal to the church. And – let’s not mince words – he was also a huge cash cow.

But two years ago, Cutié’s private demons became public when Mexican tabloids published startling pictures of the handsome Cuban-American priest frolicking on the beach with a woman. It was a sudden and extremely indecorous fall. Within a month of the publication, he was out of the church and had begun the process of becoming an Episcopalian.

Today Cutié is, in fact, an Episcopalian priest, married to the woman on the beach (as it turns out, his longtime girlfriend) and the father of a baby girl, Camila. The journey is the subject of his recent book, Dilemma: A Priest’s Struggle Between Faith and Love.

According to Cutié, anyone who actually followed him in the media knew that there wasn’t such a great distance between his public and private selves.

“I wrote six columns a week, did three hours of radio a day,” he says. “I got all kinds of questions -- contraception issues, homosexuality, the works. I would often ask, ‘Do you know what the Church says? This is what the Church says. Now, this is my opinion’. I mean, I was nominated for an award from GLAAD for talking about gays and suicide, and how to talk to your kids who come out and say they’re gay. In private, I would frequently get called by Church officials who’d ask, ‘What do you really think about this?’.”

The book, which made it onto various bestseller lists, is an autobiography of sorts, a mea culpa and a defense. Cutié has plenty to say about the Catholic Church, none of it particularly surprising. But, mostly, says Father Albert, “it’s the story of my evolution, about my private struggles while I was public spokesperson for the Church.”

When I read Dilemma: A Priest’s Struggle Between Faith and Love, I identified three specific areas in which the author's position changed or “evolved,” as he puts it: celibacy, the role of women, and homosexuality.

There’s a ton on celibacy, but when we talked, Father Albert put it like this: “The Church chooses to live in the 18th century. If the Church was more connected, and the people could choose their bishops (as it used to be in early Church), it’d be a different, more balanced Church. Celibacy doesn’t work in Africa and many parts of Latin America. If the priests of the Eastern rites are not forced into celibacy, why not consider that also for certain parts of the Western world? Why shouldn’t people choose the leaders of their parish if it’s their parish, like they did in early Church? What’s the threat of people having a voice and opinion?”

On women, he says: “Honestly, it’s useless to tell a daughter she can be a Supreme Court Justice or a CEO, but she can’t be called to be a priestess. I always thought that way, many times secretly, but there’s no reason why women can’t receive a call from God and serve.”

On gays: “Homosexuals are like heterosexuals -- loved and created by God, some well adjusted, well-integrated, some not. That’s what should matter to us. The Church knows very well there are thousands of gays in its ranks. Why promote homophobia in an institution that’s full of gays?”

One of the real surprises in Cutié’s book is his take on the sex abuse scandals that have been rocking the Church for years now.

“I lived it closely because I replaced three different accused priests,” he says. “While people may talk about Padre Alberto’s secret girlfriend, the fact is that only person I slept with in 15 years was my wife. Not so for others. And there are accusations and real accusations – many priests were removed without due process, without investigation. Priests were thrown under the bus to protect the image of the Church. In one case, the accuser didn’t even remember the priest’s face, couldn’t remember his name. The Church figured out who it was and tossed him. But they’re not all abusers, and not every accusation has proven to be true. And, bottom line, regardless of whether they’re guilty or not, they should have an opportunity for due process.”

As expected, though, the biggest revelations in the book have to do with his relationship with Ruhama Buni Canellis. It’s the first time Cutié has acknowledged that the attraction had been going on for years and, though he chivalrously offers no details, he does admit the sexual relationship was two years on when they were unceremoniously caught.

“I was already in the process of talking to Episcopal priests who’d been Roman Catholic in the past,” says Cutié. “You don’t go through that unless you're contemplating the change. My plan was to come out shortly after I finished some projects. But the paparazzi anticipated it. I think it was careless to be seen in public but not as careless as it seemed. I don’t think it was fairly portrayed in the media.”

Not that Cutié does himself any favors in his own rendering of the tale. Who did he call when he realized there was a photog taking pictures of him and Ruhama? Emilio Estefan. Why? Well, he thought Estefan might be able to help him figure out if the camera person was a paparazzi. Pretty baffling.

Does he have any regrets?

“I would have preferred to announce it myself,” he says, “about Ruhama, about my new calling.”

Though he’ll soon be involved in a new media adventure, he’s had two years of adjusting to his new life as a relatively quiet and normal married Episcopal priest.

“It’s a life I should have always been allowed to live. Peter and the apostles were all married men, with children and grandchildren. Now I’m living more like the apostles used to live,” he says. “The parish I’m at is a great little church. It’s a mission church, and embraces people from different traditions. My job description is exactly the same. The sacraments are the same, the rites are very similar.”

When we talked, the TV offer wasn’t firm yet. But I asked if he missed doing media, if he ever thought about going back to it.

“I would like to do media work if God wants me to,” said Cutié. “I’m not looking for it, but it's looking for me. “

God knows, it found him.