The Roman Catholic archdiocese is understandably ticked off. It released a statement which said, in part,
Father Cutie's actions have caused grave scandal within the Catholic Church, harmed the Archdiocese of Miami -- especially our priests -- and led to division within the ecumenical community and the community at large. Today's announcement only deepens those wounds.
There was also a suggestion that ecumenical cooperation would be harmed (although we doubt the truth of this, beyond a few symbolic events which may be canceled).
Now, let's be clear. We at the Egg don't believe that clerical celibacy is an especially good thing. Frankly, it sets the bar unnecessarily high, and increases the likelihood of scandals just like this one (or worse). Marriage exists among Christians, in part, because God does not want us to burn with lust -- it is a means of creating accountability and fidelity while defending against the temptation of promiscuity. Historically, clerical celibacy was an idea promoted by the West and, repeatedly, opposed by the East. Even in the West, there was only a fairly short period -- from the eleventh century to the sixteenth -- when the rule was universally accepted.
So Fr. Cutie has broken a rule for which we don't really care. On the other hand, he has broken the rule -- violated his vow and, considerably worse, he did not himself take action to deal with it, either by breaking off the relationship or by requesting a return to lay status. Instead, he waited until he was caught, and created a scandal.
Is this the sort of priest the Episcopal Church wants in its ranks? We would have thought that they already had enough trouble with disobedient and self-righteous clergy.
We are reminded of another Roman Catholic with a high public profile, who some years ago revealed to the world that he was, in his own self-dramatizing phrase, "a gay American." He didn't do this immediately after a strangely delayed sexual awakening; he did it when faced with legal threats of sexual harassment from a former paramour -- and after having deceived, for years, his second wife. Not a first youthful mistake, mind you -- his second wife.
Ex-governor Jim McGreevey was also received into the PECUSA, and is also reported to be taking steps toward ordination. (There are rumors, for the truth of which we cannot vouch, that his path so far has cleared a bit in comparison to that of other seminary students. Not made more difficult, as one might expect -- but made easier.)
The fact that both men were guilty of sexual misconduct is relevant here, if only from a legal perspective. Churches these days are under tremendous scrutiny (ask our insurance broker), and sadly this is a well-deserved scrutiny. Whether they are prone to diddle the altar boys or the pretty young maidens is beside the point; people who have demonstrated difficulty in maintaining appropriate sexual boundaries expose their churches to an elevated level of risk. (Not to mention the risk they may pose to the faith of church members).
But beyond that, there are the fundamental questions of character. Mistakes, once made and confessed, can and must be forgiven. But it is also fair for a church body to ask whether it wants as clergy people who have demonstrated difficulty in following the most basic rules, and keeping their most fundamental promises.
And it is fair to ask why the Episcopal Church seems to untroubled by these characters.