Saturday, May 30, 2009

Father Oprah "scandal"

After seeing the news on CNN, my mother is keenly interested in the ongoing "scandal" involving media personality and Roman Catholic priest Father Alberto Cutie in Miami. The priest who has a high media profile among Florida's Latinos, was recently caught by paparazzi smooching and fondling a woman on the beach. His bishop obviously had to do something canonically to contain the scandal. He sacked Cutie from being cura parroco and banned him from saying Mass. I have seen some of Fr Cutie's shows while I was living in the US and the tag "Father Oprah" was not lost on me.

My mother's being truly Pinay first comment was how "gwapo" this Father was. To which I remarked that here in the Pilipins, we have had many gwapo priests who had been caught in even more scandalous circumstances and still you can receive communion from them or even confess your most intimate sins! One or two of them even are bishops and only then did the Vatican do something about it when one woman went on TV cams with her lovechild with a certain bishop. Now this bishop was considered for the Cardinal's seat in Manila.

Since Cutie's congregation are Latins, and just like us Pinoys, I could connect with the relief expressed by the Latinos saying "that at least Fr Cutie was 1) straight and 2) had an affair with a woman who was definitely way way above the age of majority (the paramour was a devastatingly beautiful woman 35 years young).

The US church (not only the Catholic but many of the mainline Protestants) have been reeling from pedophile, rapist and gay clerics. Surely a celibate priest like Cutie who has the consensual hots for a woman isn't that bad? That's exactly what the Latinos thought and his congregation was willing to forgive and wrote their bishop. But Cutie had made up his mind.

Cutie has decided to join the Episcopal Church (TEC). TEC allows married priests, woman priests, birth control etc and almost everything that can cause a guilt trip among Catholics. This is why Robin Williams famously quipped that his denomination is "Catholic-lite, same rituals with half the guilt!"

Now whole Cutie issue has once more fanned the debate among Catholics about priestly celibacy. A majority of US Catholics want their priests to marry. Increasingly Pinoy Catholics believe too that priests should marry if they want to. Among Pinoys, a married priest is more "believable" when counselling about marital existence.

The pros and cons of celibacy can be googled and you will get a heap of links. But we have to get the facts straight. Celibacy is only obligatory for the Latin Church. Among Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox they follow the ancient tradition of having married parish priests. Even in the Latin Church, the Pope can give dispensation to accept a married man as a priest. The Pope has done this for decades when a Protestant or Anglican cleric joins the Catholic Church as a cleric. The rule on celibacy is a church discipline and not dogma. The Pope or an Ecumenical Council with the Pope can change the rule.

While those for a married clergy recognize the benefits of having married priests, they don't discount the benefits of having a celibate clergy. The question is whether all men can be called to priesthood and celibacy or priesthood and celibacy are two callings instead of one. Eastern Catholics tend to understand these are two callings.

The statistics are grim. As the number of Catholics increase, vocations to the priesthood decrease although in some areas, vocations do increase but this is unlikely to be sustained.

Vatican II seems to have noted the problem when it restored the married diaconate to the Church. Married men may be ordained deacons and are cleric. But deacons are not priests but are ordained for service not to celebrate Mass or hear confessions.

Laypeople may not be much overly concerned about celibacy since many think married life is in the cards. In reality for some, married life is not in the cards. But it may be a good idea to think about it. When I was writing my PhD thesis, I lived like a monk with a prayer discipline (to be able to write) in the Catholic college. Temporalily freed from sex as an escape hatch from troubles and frustration, sex was to me unexpectedly elevated to something higher. I then got a glimpse of what sex ought to be and why for the celibates, sex is returned to its source, Life itself and Life in God.

But not are called to that and so sex has to be elevated to Life in community with another person and in time possibly give rise to other persons. That in itself returning sex to its source, Life itself and the Living God.

But all that should be in community, whether celibate or not.

This is probably why the Father Cutie's journey has attracted so much attention. The celibate and non-celibate's question "How do we return sex and intimacy to its source?" remains.

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