Thursday, May 7, 2009

Priests, Paparazzi & Celibacy.

Yesterday a story broke out of Miami about Father Alberto Cutie who was caught on the beach in the company of a woman. Some Paparazzi evidently followed the priest, took photos of him and the woman exchanging simple acts of public affection. They attempted to sell the photos to a news station for a six figure sum but the station declined. They were finally able to sell the photos to Telenotas a Spanish language periodical for an undisclosed amount.

There are several stories here. First, there is the story of Paparazzi, we all recall their role in the death of the late Princess Diana. There is something disquieting about being stalked. I had this happen a few times as a priest, most recently by a woman who had romantic designs on me. While this may seem initially flattering or humorous to some, having someone appear at night out of the shadows or, tail you car through city streets would be a cause for serious concern for most people.

There is something especially foul and crass about individuals who make it their “profession” to stalk individuals and invade their private lives. In the situation which I cited, it became apparent to me that I was dealing with someone suffering from mental dysfunction. In the case of Fr. Albert Cutie, it seems that he was dealing with someone who wanted to make a very large amount of money and really didn’t care in the least what the professional and personal consequences to their prey would be.

I suppose that is what is truly unsavory about Paparazzi, they are willing and eager to stalk a fellow human in order to make a buck and really don’t care what psychological, emotional, professional or, as in the case of the late Princess Diana, physical harm they cause. An addendum to this is that people fund Paparazzi by buying tabloids. Then again, sins against charity have always been socially respectable.

A second story is that this is a priest. Priests are public persons and therefore considered “fair game” by not only Paparazzi but often even by the people who they serve. I know of many priests whom have been followed and who have had their residence under surveillance by parishioners. I myself have found my mail opened and read. I know of a priest who had his computer hacked into and files published. I would invite the reader to pause here and consider the psychological/emotional effects you would personally experience if someone did this to you.

A third story here is about celibacy. Arguably, this is THE story; however, most folks won’t even get to this story because, they will have focused on the two more sensational preceding stories. Celibacy has a certain mystique and mystery associated with it and most people have only a cursory knowledge of the subject, which is often “informed” by popular movies and media.

Celibacy within Christianity has its origins with Saint Anthony of Egypt. He was a wealthy farmer who inherited a large estate from his parents. One day at church he heard the Gospel read in which Jesus, speaking to the rich young man, said: “If you seek perfection, go sell your processions, give the money to the poor and follow me.”

Anthony did precisely just that and after having done so, he went off into the desert in imitation of John the Baptist and Jesus’ forty days of prayer and fast prior to his public ministry. You can imagine the effect that Anthony’s radical personal faith had on others in his town. Many would go out to the desert to join Anthony in prayer, fasting and to ask for spiritual advice. Some stayed with him and followed an acetic lifestyle, which included prayer, fasting and celibacy.

St. Basil the Great created a practical rule of life for monastic life. Later St. Benedict adapted Basil’s rule for Western Europe and we had the birth of the Benedictines. Christian monasticism works because these simple and acetic living communities of faith provide a practical framework of spiritual, psychological and material support to the individual in his/her spiritual development.

Monasticism served Christianity and Western Civilization very well indeed. It was monastic communities, which preserved countless books during the barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire. They were centers of learning and culture throughout a violent epoch in western history. Celibacy became viewed as a spiritually superior lifestyle for people of faith.

Eventually, the Church required that all bishops be celibate. In July of 1054 the Great Schism occurred and the Church was split into the Western (Catholic) Church and the Eastern (Orthodox) Church. Twelve years after this split, the Catholic Church required all clergy to be celibate. The Orthodox Church maintains the older discipline of requiring only bishops to be celibate. In Orthodoxy, before a man is ordained he MUST either a) marry or b) join a monastic community because they believe that ministry is impossible without the concrete love of others (i.e. a family or community).

The Catholic Church derived substantial material benefits from an all celibate clergy. Individual churches were no longer “family businesses” handed down from father to son for generations, but became “corporate property” owned by the bishops. Since priests now had no wife or children, they could be moved “at will” by their bishop. In the Orthodox Church, the bishop has to take into account that moving a priest means forcing kids to transfer out of schools, selling a house, etc..

Since priests do not have a wife or children, They are “free” to be available for service on holidays, in the middle of the night, etc. Priest also may be paid less than their Protestant counterparts since, “they don’t have children to feed, etc.” and the bishop can pocket the salary. I invite you to try that with your physician, dentist, accountant, mechanic, etc. Inform them that you will pay them predicated on the number of their dependants.

What this affords Catholic bishops is a huge amount of power and wealth, which an Episcopal or Orthodox bishop does not have. There does remain that nagging problem however, that priests are human beings and as such require love. An elderly Monsignor once told me: “Every day I eat alone with my cat and I ask myself, does this please God?” Over the centuries many priests have found love. When I studied Spanish literature I read “El Libero del Buen Amor” [The Book of Good Love] written in the 12th century by the “Archipreste de Hita”

He was a Dean in his diocese and commanded by the Inquisition to write a public renunciation of his “loose” life. He wrote the book as a satire. The professor pointed out that the Spanish surname “Braganza” was given to the illegitimate children of priests. Most recently, the current president of Paraguay, a Catholic bishop, was hit with a paternity suit for a child he fathered while he was still in active ministry.

At President Mitterrand’s State Funeral, which was held at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, there were present at the Mass both the late President’s widow and the late President’s mistress. This seemed perfectly natural and no one commented. President Clinton was almost impeached and removed from public office because of a sexual indiscretion with an intern.

This has to do with HOW the law is viewed. In Southern Europe, the law is viewed as an ideal to be attained. In Northern Europe, the law is viewed as the minimum, which always and everywhere must be met by everyone. Remember, we are speaking here of the ROMAN Catholic Church. Culturally, Catholicism is Southern European. Celibate means “unmarried.” Chastity is a spiritual virtue to which all Christians are called, the unmarried and the married.

All have fallen short, as Saint Paul states, and in Latin countries, people pretty much know this is part of the human condition and roll their eyes with incredulity at the absurd Americans. Then again, our nation was founded by all the religious crazies who were kicked out of Europe.

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church do not want to let go of celibacy because it gives them great power and wealth, PERIOD. At the Second Vatican Council a bishop from Brazil attempted to introduce the subject for discussion by the bishops. Pope Paul VI silenced him and “reserved the matter for himself.” The late Pope John Paul I was supposedly going to address mandatory celibacy. Sadly, he died, after only 33 days as Pope under questionable circumstances. No autopsy was permitted by Vatican authorities.

So, what will happen with Father Cutie? The bishop will encourage Father to make a public apology, which he has. They will claim that this was an act of human weakness on his part. They will probably ship him off somewhere out of public view for “counseling and spiritual reflection.” If he cooperates fully, he will then probably be reassigned under strict supervision in an obscure parish and ordered to avoid the media.

Behind closed doors, the bishops will probably joke and express relief that he is straight (since most priests are gay). Older Catholic laity are far more “forgiving” if it is a woman and not a man in bed with their priest. In a way, this is also a welcome diversion from the pedophilia scandal. They can spin this to their advantage and simply talk about the noble ideal of celibacy and that it is a “high bar.”

Bishops don’t mention all the priests who have suffered alcoholism, morbid obesity, depression and suicide, who have lived double lives or become workaholics in an attempt to live as celibates. They won’t speak of the psychological and emotional violence visited upon priests who are stalked by “the faithful,” that priests have become the endless butt of jokes (4% of priests are pedophiles 96% are NOT) and who are kept in economic servitude by bishops (who structure salary policies specifically designed for that purpose). Business will go on as usual and the faithful need not be disturbed.

Mandatory celibacy, a lifetime alone and without intimate love, hey they ask no more of divorced Catholics, or gay and lesbian Catholics. The people today are just so darned selfish!


Марко Фризия said...

I do not approve of stalking (scary and dangerous) and I don't like paparazzi. I don't believe that celibacy for all clergy is of dominical origin, but I have profound respect for people who are celibate in ministry and who have that charism and make those vows. I do value discretion. I don't think it was wise of Padre Alberto to be in a very public place (a crowded beach in Florida) where he and his friend could be seen touching one another. In Army ethics training they told us to avoid "even the appearance of impropriety." I think that is probably a good rule for clergy, too. He is so very well know from his books and media appearances. He is very recognizable. It is almost like he set himself up to be caught. I wonder if people who are in a double life situation sometimes set themselves up subconsciously? And maybe it is a relief to be found out. In an ideal world he could get married and continue his wonderful and blessed ministry as a priest. I agree that there is probably relief from the bishop that he wasn't caught with a boy or a man. The Episcopal Bishop in Miami, Leo Frade, has already said (in a Miami Herald interview) that a married or dating Fr. Cutié could continue priestly ministry in the Episcopal Church. However, I don't know what Bishop Frade would say if Fr. Alberto wanted to be an Episcopal priest and date or marry a man. That subject didn't come up in that interview. I like what the priest's mom said to reporters in Spanish, "Cosas de la vida."
Things like this happen...
Fr. Geoff, when you spoke out against the whole Prop 8 thing I (an Episcopalian) wanted to say that we would love to have you in the Episcopal Church. But I didn't say that. It's not that you aren't welcome. But I felt like my saying that would, in some ways disregard, disrespect, or "write off" your commitment, your personal history, and your deep love for your own, very rich tradition. Like all of a sudden your Catholicism didn't matter and you could just switch churches (like casually changing brands of cereal at the supermarket). I am not dissing people who said that to you because they are welcoming and good souls. As though things are not difficlt enough for you, I think it would be very painful and hard for a Roman Catholic priest to abruptly leave their church and their faith community. There are Episcopal priests who have switched to the R.C. Church and vice-versa. I respect the traffic both ways. But I thank you and feel gratitude for your continuing ministry as a Roman Catholic priest and for your courage (and the hardships you endure) in speaking out from within your church. Much love to you. We pray for your every day.

Kevin said...

Wow Fr geoff. What a great post. I think FORCED celibacy is so distructive and what the effects are are obvious. Just the same with gays. To tell someone you MUST be celibate! Now, if someone wants to be because God has called them, that is totally different. Your posts are wonderful. I will print thsi out and read it with my faith community next week. We have to prepare some readings, either from the bible or something that grabs us, and it is my turn next week, so i'm going to read this!

Cheers...Kevin B.

Steven said...

It never fails that you are able to teach me something about the Catholic Church that I never have seen or known before.

The observation that priests are “...'corporate property' owned by the bishops" and that "...they could be moved 'at will' by their bishop" brings to mind the disdain I would feel against the church when, as a student in a parochial school, I would have to face the heartbreak of seeing our Associate Pastors transferred every six years. After 27 years since his transfer, I am still in touch with one who is now Pastor of a church and not being subjected to transfers.

headbang8 said...

To be loved by another human being is good for the soul. It comforts us, makes us feel safe, nourishes us, keeps us sane and happy. It makes us strong. Literally, it empowers us.

In the touch of another human being, we literally and tangibly feel the love of a creator. (If one is a believer, of course.)

Such an obvious fact. But until you pointed it out, Father Geoff, it hasn't figured in the debate about reform of the clergy.

Are the unloved docile? Do they lack the self esteem to stand up for themselves? Can the unloved be bullied more easily? You've written a very profound bit of human insight here, Father Geoff.

Many who are not members of the clergy have sensed this dynamic our Catholic clergy. They alternate between the raging bully and the utter milquetoast. And in my parishes, anyway, the bullies were the ones who seemed to make the leap from the Very Reverend to Monsignor.

You, Geoff, are unusual in the priesthood. A man who is neither a bully, nor a patsy. On a personal level, I hope you are getting the love you need to stay strong--even if it means negotiating your vows with GOd.

Anonymous said...

Whose saint is John Henry Newman?
By James Martin | May 7, 2009
The Boston Globe
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH in London recently reported that the Vatican had accepted the cure of a Massachusetts man, who had suffered from spinal stenosis, as a miracle attributed to the prayers of John Henry Newman, the Victorian-era cardinal, theologian, and writer. Jack Sullivan, a Catholic deacon in Marshfield, later told the Globe of his overnight cure. "The next morning I woke up," he said, "and there was no pain." Sullivan's dramatic healing would fulfill the church's requirement for Newman's beatification, which could take place as early as this fall. (Another miracle is required for canonization.)

Born in 1801, Newman would make both a fascinating and controversial saint. An eminent clergyman, Newman spent much of his life in the orbit of Oxford University, where he studied and later taught. Ordained in 1824, the brilliant scholar instantly became one of the glittering stars of the Anglican Church.

Over the next decade, he spearheaded the "Oxford movement," which sought to return Anglicanism to more traditional roots. Newman's ultimate decision, in 1845, to convert to Catholicism came on the heels of research that led him to conclude that the Catholic Church had a greater claim to orthodoxy. His conversion horrified much of England.

Even after "crossing the Tiber," however, Newman retained his intellectual independence, freely toggling between traditional and progressive theologies. Despite his conservative theological leanings, he championed such radical ideas as the rights of the individual conscience at a time when that notion was held in low regard in the Vatican. ("Error has no rights" was the prevailing line of thought.) When he was named cardinal in 1879 by Pope Leo XIII, it was joked that perhaps Rome hadn't read all that he had written.

Because of his protean mind and voluminous writings, then, he is beloved by groups that are often at loggerheads. More traditional Catholics admire Newman's elegant apologias for Catholicism. Progressives embrace his work on conscience and the "development of doctrine," the idea that church belief on some matters can change over time - for the better. And ironically, many Catholics suspicious of clericalism often quote this prince of the church, who once quipped about the laity, "[T]he church would look foolish without them." Indeed, one of his most famous articles was called "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine."

The greatest controversy over the soon-to-be-saint, however, may be his intense relationship with his long-time friend Ambrose St. John. "As far as this world was concerned, I was his first and last . . . he was my earthly light," wrote Newman. Before his death in 1890, Newman made an unusual and strongly worded request. "I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Fr Ambrose St. John's grave - and I give this as my last, my imperative will," he wrote. As a result, he is beloved among some in the gay community, who often claim him as one of their own.

Last year, church officials announced that they would unearth Newman's remains from a small rural cemetery in Worcestershire in order to transfer them to a marble sarcophagus in the Birmingham Oratory church. But diggers found little left of the cardinal. Some charged that the church wanted to move Newman to whitewash his friendship with St. John. Church officials replied, accurately, that the remains of many saints are often moved to sites that are more appropriate for "public veneration."

Admired by conservatives and liberals, cradle Catholics and converts, as well as anti-clericalists and gays, Cardinal John Henry Newman is destined to be a popular but controverted saint. Who is the "real" Newman? It's a bit like the popular quest for the "historical Jesus." Which one you find depends a great deal on which one you're searching for.

James Martin is a Jesuit priest and author of "My Life with the Saints."