July 12, 2011

Why Alberto Cutié Matters

Una traducción de este blog post es disponible aquí

Fr. Alberto Cutié’s new daytime talk show premiered yesterday. Did you watch?

The premier of "Father Albert" generated a bit of conversation on the Episcopal Café’s Facebook page with comments ranging from hopefulness to curiosity to disdain. “And we should care...why?” wrote one Episcopal priest.

I briefly met Fr. Cutié two years ago and I must confess that I did so with that last question very much in mind. First off, I’m not a big television watcher much less a fan of daytime television. I’d heard of Father Oprah, had seen his books in Barnes and Noble, but didn’t connect with the idea of a celibate priest dispensing relationship advice. Secondly, Fr. Cutié’s entry into the Episcopal Church came at a particularly difficult time in my life. Having just been rejected from the ordination process in the Diocese of New York, I was hurt by how swiftly Fr. Cutié became an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Southeast Florida. I recall joking that perhaps things would have turned out differently for me had I been a television star, better looking, with millions of fans...

A year or so later my attitude has changed. I’m a fan and I strongly believe we should care. Here’s why:

Increasingly, A Shared Story
The face of the Episcopal Church is rapidly changing. Latinos presently constitute one of - if not the - fastest growing segments of the Episcopal Church. This parallels broader shifts in U.S. demographics. As noted in “A (Uni)Vision for Life After A Mass Market,” demographers at the Census Bureau predict that by the year 2042 racial and ethnic minorities will make up more than half of the U.S. population, with more than 30 percent considering themselves Hispanic.

In this context, Alberto Cutié’s story - that of a Latino struggling to live within the confines of the Roman Catholic Church and finding a new life and home in the Episcopal Church - is a powerful one that may resonate with millions of people. This was very apparent in a Spanish-language radio interview he gave with another Episcopal priest, the Rev. Anna Lange-Soto. In it, he speaks about many of the people he encountered as a Roman Catholic priest: women who stayed within abusive relationships rather than getting divorced; divorced individuals denied communion; couples struggling with the church’s teaching on contraceptives, etc. He goes on to say that he’s a member of the Episcopal Church because we do not treat communion “like a prize” but as the body of Christ offered to all.

Amor Atrevido (Bold, Daring Love)
While some may cringe over the scandalous elements of Alberto Cutié’s personal story, I happen to hear in it an echo of the scandalous nature of love. Love happens, we as a Church seem to be saying, and Cutié is skillfully connecting his own story to the experiences of those whose love of God and one another is regularly denigrated: women who are being called into the priesthood and LGBT people who wish to marry.

In this same radio interview, a caller laments the Roman Catholic’s view of LGBT people and asks what the Episcopal Church’s position on this matter is. The precision of his response is remarkable. He first lays out the Episcopal Church’s ability to hold differing viewpoints on this matter in tension and then articulates his own belief that we should be fighting for LGBT equality. He provides a biblical basis, noting how Paul’s description of pederasty differs from relationships between consenting adults, talks about the Episcopal Church’s welcome to all, and concludes with a particular call to Latino fathers to love their LGBT children.

It’s in moments like these that Fr. Cutié’s skill as communicator comes through - honed, undoubtedly, from his years as a TV personality. My sincere hope is that we as a Church will be able to find a way to welcome and use these many gifts to continue to proclaim this Good News.

Why should we care about Alberto Cutié? As an Episcopalian, I care because he is a member of my Church, because his personal journey led him to this spiritual home, because I hear aspects of my own story in that journey, and because he’s a skillful communicator of what has brought me and so many others into the Episcopal Church. And while I might never be the biggest fan of his talk show (though who knows?), I am a fan of his ability to meld the unlikely worlds of a daytime talk show and genuine faith.