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Archive for June, 2009

The Cutie case: Forgiveness, not restoration

Posted by Ron George on June 5, 2009

The Rev. Alberto Cutie, a former Roman Catholic priest

The Rev. Alberto Cutie, a former Roman Catholic priest

I have a friend who was once a Roman Catholic priest, but he was removed from ordained ministry after having sexual relations with a married woman in his congregation. He’s now an Episcopal priest and is rector of a rural parish in Texas. I played a minor role in his becoming an Episcopalian, but I had nothing to do with his becoming a priest. He might be surprised to know that I disapproved of that, but I attended his ordination and I remember him in my prayers. He’s been married twice since leaving the Roman Catholic church, but the second marriage seems to be secure. He’s a good man. In my opinion, though, he ought to be teaching English somewhere and not pastoring a congregation.I was reminded of my friend by the case of Alberto Cutie (pronounced coo-tee-AY), a prominent — and now former — Roman Catholic priest in Florida, who was removed from ministry last month after his two-year sexual relationship with a woman was disclosed by news media. He’s become an Episcopalian, now, and the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida is in the process of receiving him into the ordained ministry.

What are they thinking?

Pastoral sexual misconduct is what it is without regard to denomination. It is an abuse of pastoral office. It is an offense against one’s solemn promises to God through Christ in his church, which in the Roman Catholic tradition includes a vow of celibacy. The precipitating matter of Cutie’s case is sex, but it could have been financial malfeasance or some other misbehavior. His primary offense, though, is not about sex or money but that he broke his promises, demonstrating that he is not trustworthy in pastoral office. For this he certainly may be forgiven — but restored to pastoral authority in the Episcopal Church?

I have been asked many times by church folk why I haven’t been restored to ordained ministry. “What about forgiveness?” they ask. The implication is that if I am truly forgiven by the church, I ought to be restored as pastor of a congregation. It’s even suggested that I’d be better than most, or at least better than I would have been otherwise, for having experienced abounding grace after sinning greatly.

The truth is I have been forgiven, deeply and truly, and that grace has abounded in my life. I have been more deeply loved by God in Christ through his church than I ever imagined possible even when I was an active presbyter of the Episcopal Church. I once asked to be restored, but now I see the wisdom of my diocese’s respectful refusal to consider that request. There are good reasons in my particular case why restoration should not be an option, but even in general this principle holds true: Clergy sexual misconduct ought to be grounds for permanent removal from ordained ministry. Let grace abound for the repentant sinner; let the church hold him close and help him seek ways of service to the church consonant with his education and gifts; but let’s not put him and others in jeopardy again. It’s not worth the risk. The church is better off — and so is the offending clergyman. It doesn’t seem that way in the beginning, but as my bishop once told me, “There is life after deposition.” He was right, probably more than he knew.

Mr. Cutie apparently is a gifted man, a television personality, magnetic and charming. Dangerously so, it turns out, and now the Diocese of Southeast Florida wants him to help revive a declining congregation of Episcopalians in Biscayne Park. My hope, first, is that the diocese will reconsider, but that’s unlikely. My continuing prayer will be that Mr. Cutie succeed as my friend apparently has done, and that he will serve God’s people with the mix of dignity and humility that takes root in the best of our clergy. My fear, though, is that his easy path to restoration will leave him virtually untouched by the scandal he has caused, unrepentant and self-righteous in the adulatory glow of an oblivious Episcopal diocese; and that he will be filled with the kind of hubris and sense of entitlement that can lead only to disaster for him and the people of God he serves.

All offending clergy removed from office are entitled to recapture their sense of vocation to serve the church, though not in pastoral office; but that requires profound amendment of life and discernment. Mr. Cutie has had no time for that. He’s been too busy holding press conferences to announce his next move in the limelight. It’s a formula for true tragedy — something inevitable that has more to do with fate than grace.

Mr. Cutie has set himself up for a terrible fall. Let’s pray it doesn’t happen — again.

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