Priest Known as Padre Oprah Strays in South Florida

May 11th, 2009 by admin

MIAMI — They called the Rev. Alberto Cutié “Padre Oprah” for his insightful advice about relationships. Now his parishioners, his television and radio audience, and readers of his best-selling book, “Real Life, Real Love,” know he speaks from experience.

On Tuesday, photographs in a Spanish-language tabloid showed the 40-year-old priest with deep blue eyes lying shirtless beside, and cuddling with, a dark-haired woman on a North Florida beach. Within hours, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami removed him from his post as pastor of a Miami Beach church, and now all of South Florida seems to be abuzz with discussions of celibacy, celebrity and temptation.

Radio and television news programs, in Spanish and English, have spent hours parsing the case. The original pictures, from TVNotas, have been reproduced all over the Web, while on Wednesday at his former church, St. Francis de Sales, camera crews hovered on the sidewalk as a secretary hung a “no trespassing” sign.

“He was held up as an example of something different,” said Carlos Saladrigas, a well-known businessman here who has known Father Cutié since he entered the seminary at age 18. “It’s like any icon — when they breach the trust of society, it hurts.”

Father Cutié, born in Puerto Rico to Cuban parents, grew up in Miami. He developed an international following of millions with his television show, “Padre Alberto,” which was first broadcast on Telemundo in 1999.

Wealthy, famous local figures also considered him a friend: when the Latin music legend Israel Cachao López died last year, it was Father Cutié who conducted the service.

And even now, many of his supporters have remained loyal. Along with fans who have started online petitions or called into Spanish-language radio shows to say he should be quickly forgiven, there are parishioners like Yohayra Dajud De la Fuente, who parked herself in front of St. Francis on Wednesday to praise the priest for the television cameras. A tall Colombian woman, 44, with multicarat diamond earrings, she said, “He is a brilliant man who is needed by this community.”

She cited his efforts in working with local youth — and his role officiating at her wedding — and she questioned the motives of the woman involved. “She never came to this church,” Ms. Dajud De la Fuente said. “I’m sure it’s someone who wanted to destroy his reputation.”

Father Cutié’s parish sits in the heart of South Beach, where even the mannequins have extra-large breasts, and many here have also questioned whether this was the time or place for Catholic priests to stay celibate. It remains unclear exactly how far Father Cutié fell; statements released by him, and by Archbishop John C. Favalora, were vague on details.

Father Cutié did ask “for the forgiveness of those who may be hurt or saddened by my actions,” but he also said “the commitment that I made to serve God will remain intact.”

Archbishop Favalora, in turn, said, “Father Cutié made a promise of celibacy, and all priests are expected to fulfill that promise with the help of God.”

The celebrity status of Padre Oprah seems to be coloring the community’s response. Without it, tabloids would not have been following him to the beach, nor would supporters be planning to march Thursday on his behalf.

But just a few feet from the church with the slogan “when you come to the beach … don’t forget who made it,” Ruben Garcia had reservations about the mix of fame and faith. Standing outside his apartment, he said the church was always packed on Sundays, and he argued that requiring priests to be celibate was outdated.

The problem, he said, is that Father Cutié’s sandy tryst suggests an arrogance that conflicts with piety.

“This man, he’s not a God,” said Mr. Garcia, 45, an unemployed laborer. “He’s an instrument of God. He needed to be more careful.”

Pulled from the New York Times

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