Sunday, May 17, 2009

Alberto Cutie, Celibacy, Sex, and the Church


As the title suggests, this article is pretty broad. Yet I think that the subject matter is essential for discussion in our day. I am going to attempt to discuss sexuality from a biblical understanding, compare and contrast Protestant and Catholic views, and give my opinion on Cutie's recent actions.

All have likely now heard of Reverend Alberto Cutie (pronounced Koo-ti-ay). He was photographed by paparazzi on a beach in Miami with a female lover, kissing her with his hand down her bikini. The reason the paparazzi became involved was that he is a television and radio personality with internationally broadcast shows. He is especially well-liked in Latin America.

His indiscretion has resulted in his losing the ability to pastor his parish and offer communion, while his Archdiocese figures out how to handle the situation. Their censure further resulted in a public outcry against Church strictures, especially concerning celibacy, and even a march to reinstate Cutie as priest over his parish. Cutie's initial response was that he has been with the woman for years, that he loves the woman, and that he would not give her up even if it meant losing the priesthood. He has since backed-off of that position somewhat. He has said that he does not want to be the poster boy for anti-celibacy, but then, ironically, added that he thinks celibacy should be a choice.

So many philosophies and considerations are at play here that it is hard to discuss this in a whole way without writing a book. Beliefs about the origin and descent of man, beliefs about what humans can and should do, beliefs about God and the Bible, beliefs about Catholicism, all are in operation. But much of what is being thrown around as relevant are merely human philosophies; opinions created by skeptical and sinful people. Is there any demonstrably authoritative source that tells us what we should think about this situation? After all, it seems that most of the people who want to reinstate Cutie appeal to internal feelings - is that enough?

I would suggest that Scripture is the only authoritative source for understanding this situation rightly. Now, I must mention that this is a Protestant response. Catholics have generally supported the idea that both Scripture and the Catholic Church are sources of authority. They believe this because they understand the Pope to be the "Vicar of Christ" on earth, the only one who holds the keys of the kingdom, which they understood Christ to offer to Peter alone (Matthew 16:15-19). Protestants, however, read this passage as a gifting to the Church and not to Peter, or his successors, alone. Further, Protestants find the term "Vicar of Christ," essentially meaning "in place of Christ" to be blasphemous. So, like Luther, I must say, "I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves. . ." Therefore, also like Luther, I place my trust in Scripture alone, which is the very word, will, and self-revelation of God.

So what does Scripture say about Alberto Cutie's actions and the Catholic Church's response? Quite a bit, in fact. From here I plan to lay-out an argument for a proper understanding of human sexuality and then contrast it with both the Catholic Church's demands and Cutie's actions.

First, what should human sexuality look like? Genesis 2:20-25 portrays God's creation of woman for man and for the unifying act of sex. It clarifies what this should look like. "For this reason [that woman was taken from man] a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and they will become one flesh." It goes on to say of this bond, "The man and his wife were naked, and they felt no shame." There are many implications from this short section of Scripture: 1) sex is meant for marriage and should not happen outside the marriage bond; 2) there are only two people involved in the marriage - the man has left his parents, and the singular is used of both "man" and "wife" (not "men" or "wives"); 3) man and wife portray opposite sexes - one man, one woman (please also see Genesis 19; Leviticus 18:22; Judges 19; Romans 1:20-28); 4) humans are joined in a unique way through the sexual act - "they will become one flesh;" 5) nakedness is meant for marriage and is not shameful within its bounds - which also implies that it is shameful outside of its bounds; 6) If we look at the context, this relationship was created by God and occurs before the fall of mankind into sin. Sex, within marriage, is good!

Already we see a glaring difference between a biblical understanding of sexuality and the understanding(s) of the culture around us. How else does the Bible instruct us about sexuality? Job, a righteous man whose faith was tested, said, "I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl" (Job 31:1). Jesus also said, "I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). The Apostle Paul commands the Colossian church, "Put to death . . . whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed" (Colossians 3:5). The Bible is clear that these things are wrong. But why are they wrong? Lust and sexual immorality (whether hetero- or homo-sexual) are wrong because they twist the image of God reflected in man. God created man to reflect his glory to the rest of creation and created sexuality as a good thing to demonstrate union. When these concepts are twisted, it is sin. Paul is adamant: "among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality" (Ephesians 5:3).

This message of sexual purity is not just a matter of tradition or a matter of choice. It wasn't just en vogue to practice sexual purity and now, in modern times, it is passe. Sexual purity is not only a matter of the exertion of church control over people. Instead, sexual purity is commanded by God. This is obviously not a popular message within our culture and has earned believing Christians a reputation as prudes - a reputation that we should gladly accept and wear with pride. But not all churches are sending the same message. Many Liberal and even emergent churches are accommodating to the culture's atheistic philosophies, including those on sex. Many of these churches accept illicit hetero- and homo-sexual relationships within their congregations in the name of "love." Yet we must not say it is in the name of Jesus Christ! Jesus is the one who said to the woman caught in adultery, "Go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11). We must not say that what God has condemned is good.

So what does this all have to do with Alberto Cutie? Much. Cutie, rather than giving up his priestly role, has had an illicit, adulterous, relationship with a woman. Some, like Time's Tim Padgett, wink at the scandal, telling us we should be glad that the indiscretion was with an adult woman. Certainly this is not a biblical response. From a Catholic perspective, he has transgressed his vow of celibacy - an oath he made for the duration of his priesthood. From the same perspective, it is made worse that the relationship is with a divorced woman because of the Catholic Church's stance against divorce (tradition). From a biblical perspective, however, they are committing adultery because she is divorced (Matthew 5:31-32). Further, he has lusted and committed sexual immorality with her because he is not married to her. Lastly, he has broken a vow made before God (Numbers 30:2; Matthew 5:33-37). Despite public opinion, Alberto Cutie should be defrocked (removed from the priesthood) for his disregard for Scripture and the Catholic Church's ecclesiastical traditions - traditions he vowed to uphold.

As for the vow of celibacy, It has no concrete basis within Scripture. Paul says to the Corinthian church, "It is good for a man not to marry." But he goes on to say, "But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband . . . if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 9). Nowhere in the Old or New Testaments does Scripture suggest that people should marry the Temple or the Church. Serving men are not married to their duties. The Church, instead, is the symbolic bride of Christ. We all, after a fashion, are wed to Christ, but the Catholic Church has taken the concept too far, to almost a sick level, and certainly has not done a good job of taking into account the nature of human frailty and sin. I agree with Cutie that celibacy should be a choice for priests, nuns, and monks (as well as Protestant pastors, who are so often required to be married). As for Cutie, however, he is held to a vow he made; a vow he broke. He must live with the consequences of his actions.


Jonathon Banister said...

Thank you for disentangling a difficult subject and for shedding light on an area of Catholicism that Protestants are uncertain about. You are most correct in stating that Cutie is accountable to his oath and that he should honor it. I wonder if celibacy will be made an option for priest in our lifetime?

Steven Douglas said...

I wish celibacy would be made an option, but only if done the right way - The Catholic Church should recognize the problems in their theology rather than conceding to humanistic interest groups.