Disgraced priest’s future left up to him

From the Miami Herald

MIAMI, Florida – Caught by paparazzi in the tender embrace of a woman on a Florida beach — is this how celebrity Catholic priest Alberto Cutié’s meteoric religious and multimedia career crashes down to earth?

Or does he emerge from a period of prayer and contemplation, humbled and chastened, renewing a vow of priestly celibacy he apparently violated — and only recently publicly questioned?

It’s Cutié’s call.

In a brief telephone interview Wednesday, a day after he was relieved of his duties at his Miami Beach parish and the church’s media arm, the internationally known priest and media personality said he was taking an indefinite leave for “personal reflection.”

Cutié, who issued a public apology Tuesday, declined to identify his companion in the published pictures or talk about their relationship.

”It would be inappropriate. To protect that person it’s best not to speak about that. It has been enough already. It has been too much for me and my family,” Cutié told El Nuevo Herald, The Miami Herald’s sister newspaper, for which he writes a weekly advice column.

Catholic Archdiocese officials said Wednesday that Cutié’s future is in his hands.

”Father Alberto is taking time to pray; how he proceeds is totally his choice,” said archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta. “He is a member of the clergy and, therefore, the archdiocese will assist him in his prayerful journey.”

”This is a conversation between a priest and his archbishop, like a conversation between a father and a son,” she said. “Now Father Albert has some prayerful time ahead of him.”

Just last week, in an interview with a Spanish-language Miami TV station, Cutié endorsed giving Catholic priests the choice to marry. He told the interviewer from WSBS-TV’s Paparazzi TV program, referring to church authorities: “If they want to discipline me, let them discipline me, but I think the option would be better and healthier.”

Paparazzi TV producers said Tuesday that they had been offered the photos of Cutié on the beach for purchase, but turned the offer down.

On Wednesday, the disgraced Cutié and his so-far-unidentified companion were probably the most sought-after couple in South Florida, as copies of the Mexican magazine that published the compromising photos hit local newsstands. One particularly attention-grabbing shot shows Cutié reaching into his companion’s swimsuit bottom.

The 40-year-old priest with youthful good looks and gelled hair remained in seclusion and off the air, while reporters fruitlessly tried to track down his female friend.

Cutié’s mother offered no clues, declining to talk about her son at her South Miami-Dade home.

Throwing her hands up in the air, Yolanda Cutié said in Spanish, with a sigh: ”`Cosas de la vida.” The expression roughly translates to “Things happen.”

Some followers of Cutié were not so sanguine.

”I feel very bad for his parents,” said Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, a parishioner at St. Patrick’s church in Miami Beach, Cutie’s one-time church. “It’s very hard on the community and the family. He’s a young, intelligent man. How could he do that? It’s a letdown for the community. It’s a letdown for the people that love him.”

But some parishioners, fans and celebrity friends emphatically defended Cutié on Wednesday. Next to his South Beach parish church, St. Francis de Sales, the doors of an apartment building kept swinging open as elderly women congregated outside to discuss the news.