Friday, May 29, 2009

Episcopalians Lower Their Standards ... Again.

Father Alberto Cutie, "Padre Oprah," has been received into the Episcopal Church, and is taking steps toward the priesthood.  This comes after the well-known South Florida radio personality was revealed to be violating his vow of celibacy.

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. 


Jim Krauser said...

Fr. A. The PECUSA dropped the P some years ago. They are simply the ECUSA, nowadays.

mark said...

Oh! Maybe we can transfer to PECUSA all of our clergy who continue to flaunt their disobedience to the V&E?

Father said...

Actually, that's a common myth, spread by the Episcopalians themselves. Their legal corporate name, at least as of 2006, remains "The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America," and the acronym used in their by-laws is PECUSA.

Of course, they'd rather be called "The Episcopal Church," or TEC, and that's what they encourage. But I'd rather be called "You Holiness," too. I even encourage it around the parish. And yet it just ain't happening.

(Okay, technically, TEC has been adopted as second official name. But I still love busting chops).

Anonymous said...

Father A. you nailed this one. web

Anonymous said...

As a seminarian in the early 90s at Manhatan's General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, I recall a heated debate about the sign at the entrance that read "The General Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America." I was over there last week for my little brother's graduation and noted that that sign was gone. web

Pastor Joelle said...

I know you have a theory about schismatics and this problem. I have a theory about charming people. These guys are ALWAYS charming. Everybody just loves them. So devastated and willing to make excuses for them when they get caught.

My mom's first husband was a charmer so I learned early.

Me? The more charming you are, the farther I run away.

Father said...

Actually, those two theories intersect easily.

One of my observations about the schismatic church body I know best is that its "best and brightest" leaders seem to have been marked by an extremely high rate of clinical narcissism. I actually think that their educational system had evolved in a way that selected for this.

One of the characteristics of the clinical narcissist is just the kind of charm you are talking about -- an intense personal charisma. They can be, in the short term., very effective leaders because of this.

In the long term, they are often undone by the need for absolute unquestioning loyalty, the difficulty trusting anybody who disagrees with them, and (especially) the inability to fully engage in "I-thou" relationships. To a narcissist, other people aren't people, so much as mirrors in which to seem himself reflected.

And yes, you do see a lot of this in schismatics. I was only half-kidding about what would happen in all the CANA priests took the MMPI.