CBS’ Rodriguez Continues Push Against Celibacy For Catholic Priests

Maggie Rodriguez and Alberto Cutie, CBS While introducing an interview with disgraced Miami Priest Alberto Cutie, who was recently found to be in a romantic relationship with a woman, co-host Maggie Rodriguez again used the scandal to argue that the Catholic Church should overturn its celibacy requirement for priests: "We go right to a story that has single-handedly revived the debate over whether Catholic priests should be allowed to marry." On Thursday, Rodriguez began reporting on the story by wondering if the vow was "outdated," "rigid," and "a nearly impossible standard" for priests.

Following Rodriguez’s introduction, correspondent Kelly Cobiella reported: "What started as a local scandal has turned into an emotional debate over the Catholic Church's 900-year-old celibacy rule. In an Associated Press poll taken in 2005, 69% of Catholics said the Church should allow priests to marry. Many of Father Cutie's parishioners agree."

Near the end of interview with Cutie, Rodriguez asked: "You don't believe that the celibacy promise should be lifted?...If they don't change this policy, do you think that they will continue to lose people, or fail to recruit people who feel the Church is too rigid?" Earlier in the interview, Cutie explained: "I don't want to be the anti-celibacy priest. I think that's unfortunate. I think it's a debate that's going on in our society, and now I've become kind of a poster boy for it. But I don't want to be that. I believe that celibacy is good, and that it's a good commitment to God."

In response to Rodriguez’s later questions, Cutie suggested the celibacy vow be "optional": "I think celibacy is good. But I also believe that what many say is that maybe it should be option. And that I do believe, I do believe that people should be given the option to marry or not to marry in order to serve God."

During Thursday’s reporting on the story, Rodriguez acknowledged that Cutie was a "family friend" who she had known for "many, many years." That personal connection raised the question of her ability to be objective in her reporting. While Rodriguez continued to go after the Catholic Church from the left on the issue of celibacy, she did not appear to show Cutie any personal favoritism in the interview and many of her questions were tough:

You were ordained as a priest 15 years ago. You promised to be celibate. You devoted your life to God. How do you explain these racy photos of you with this woman?...If you are sorry, why did you do it? Why were you out there in public with this woman on the beach?...Even people who support your breaking the celibacy promise think that what you did is completely inappropriate. What if a family who goes to your church would have been there and would have seen you?...Do you feel that you owe an apology to your parishioners to whom you preached sacrifice and discipline?

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:00AM TEASE:

JULIE CHEN: Exclusive. A conversation with the celebrity priest dubbed 'Father Oprah,' who is at the center of a steamy scandal and caught in the middle of the hot debate over celibacy.

7:01AM TEASE:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: And, Julie, speaking of controversial photographs, we have an exclusive interview this morning with the Catholic priest who is caught up in a controversy ever since these photos of him with a woman on a beach surfaced. This morning Father Alberto Cutie will sit down with me for his first live television interview.

7:30AM SEGMENT:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: We go right to a story that has single-handedly revived the debate over whether Catholic priests should be allowed to marry. Before we speak with the man at the center of it all, here's CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella.

KELLY COBIELLA: Father Alberto Cutie is a modern media priest, with movie-star looks and a comfort in front of the camera that earned him the nickname 'Father Oprah.'

ALBERTO CUTIE: If you don't have a solid foundation, it's impossible to have a lasting marriage.

COBIELLA: Last week, parishioners saw the private side of their celebrity priest, in swim shorts, on the beach, kissing a woman. The pictures, 25 in all, were plastered all over a Spanish language celebrity magazine. The archdiocese couldn't ignore it. Removing Father Cutie from his post, and explaining that he made a promise of celibacy. What started as a local scandal has turned into an emotional debate over the Catholic Church's 900-year-old celibacy rule. In an Associated Press poll taken in 2005, 69% of Catholics said the Church should allow priests to marry. Many of Father Cutie's parishioners agree. Kelly Cobiella, CBS News, Miami Beach.

RODRIGUEZ: And Father Alberto Cutie joins us now for an exclusive interview. Good morning to you.

ALBERTO CUTIE: Good morning, Maggie.

RODRIGUEZ: You were ordained as a priest 15 years ago. You promised to be celibate. You devoted your life to God. How do you explain these racy photos of you with this woman?

CUTIE: They're very hard to explain. But I would say that the first thing is that I deeply apologize to the Catholic community. And especially to my bishop and to my brother priests, who are faithful and are committed to celibacy. And I take full responsibility for what I did. And I know it's wrong. This is not easy for anyone to have to deal with. But certainly it's affected me, affected my family, affected the entire church community. I mean, we are a spiritual family. And I know that it's affected many friends at all levels of the Church and I'm deeply sorry for what's happened.

RODRIGUEZ: If you are sorry, why did you do it? Why were you out there in public with this woman on the beach?

CUTIE: First of all, hindsight is always 20/20, and I guess the first reason that I'm here is to explain to people this is a struggle that I've been through. I don't want to be the anti-celibacy priest. I think that's unfortunate. I think it's a debate that's going on in our society, and now I've become kind of a poster boy for it. But I don't want to be that. I believe that celibacy is good, and that it's a good commitment to God. In my case, it was something I struggled with for a long time in confession, in spiritual direction, retreats, very good mentors and priests that have helped me to deal with this issue. On several occasions I dedicated time in a monastery talking to good, experienced men about this. So, this is something I've struggled with. And something that I never expected to become a public debate.

RODRIGUEZ: Why did you finally cave? What is the nature of your relationship with this particular woman?

CUTIE: Well, this is someone that I love. I mean I've got to tell you Maggie, I entered the seminary 22 years ago. And in 22 years I've never had a sexual relationship with anyone. I committed myself fully to my vows. I've never been sexually inappropriate with anyone. I've never had any type of scandal. This is the only person that I've had sexual contact with.

RODRIGUEZ: And it's because you fell in love with her?

CUTIE: I believe I've fallen in love. And I believe that I've struggled with that. You know, between my love for God, and my love for the Church, and my love for service. Of course, it's something that a man should never have to deal with in the sense of his commitments, you know. if I was clear in my commitment, I should have stuck to it 100%. And I didn't.

RODRIGUEZ: How long have you been together with her?

CUTIE: Well, we've been friends for a long time. And there was an attraction from the first moment we saw each other. But for a long time it was just a friendship. And I would say in the last couple of years is that it became something more than a friendship. It became a romantic relationship. And we both struggled with it. You know, she's also a woman of faith, she's also somebody who cares about the priesthood, who cares about these things. So it hasn't been easy. And those who have helped me through this process know it hasn't been easy. Obviously, you know, through the photos, it looks like a frivolous thing on the beach, you know, like -- and that's not what it is. It's something deeper than that.

RODRIGUEZ: But the fact remains that you were on a public beach engaging in this behavior with this woman. Even people who support your breaking the celibacy promise think that what you did is completely inappropriate. What if a family who goes to your church would have been there and would have seen you?

CUTIE: Well, the truth of the matter is, Maggie, that I don't support the breaking the celibacy promise. I mean, I understand fully that this is wrong. The second thing is, that being out there, now, in hindsight is 20/20. But the truth is there was no one on the beach. It was a very isolated beach.

RODRIGUEZ: But you know you're a public figure. You could have easily been recognized.

CUTIE: I know that. I don't know if easily on that day it was cold, there was no one there. We weren't there very long, it was just a matter of minutes. But the truth is that, you know, a lifeguard got his cell phone out and -- who worked for the paparazzis and they called. And I thought that it was, you know, far away enough from my radius of activity, that it was isolated enough, that there was no one there. So it was an imprudence, it was stupid. I'm responsible for it. If I went back, would I have done it differently? Yes. Should I have come out a year ago and said, 'you know, I'm struggling with this issue, I need to leave now'? There's just a lot of pressure in making those decisions.

RODRIGUEZ: Do you feel that you owe an apology to your parishioners to whom you preached sacrifice and discipline?

CUTIE: I do. I do. I think my parishioners understand the nature of human weakness. Because we've talked about it before at every level. And I think that I should be a role model to them. And I have been in other areas of their life, I believe. I've tried to live my life authentically. But certainly this struggle of the last couple of years I've dealt with in an internal form in the Church with very good men who have tried to encourage me to keep going and to do things right. It hasn't gone well for me, as you can see.

RODRIGUEZ: You don't believe that the celibacy promise should be lifted?

CUTIE: I don't think so. I think celibacy is good. But I also believe that what many say is that maybe it should be option. And that I do believe, I do believe that people should be given the option to marry or not to marry in order to serve God. But the Church, see, has traditions and practices that are part of wanting to do what is right. I think we all have ideals, and we have ways of living, and we want to do things right. But the truth is, sometimes we fall short. And I fell short.

RODRIGUEZ: If they don't change this policy, do you think that they will continue to lose people, or fail to recruit people who feel the Church is too rigid?

CUTIE: I believe that the young men that are starting to be priests have their heart in the right place. And they have the desire to do what is right. I believe this is also a difficult society. But I don't think that we always have to respond to everything happening in a society immediately. I think the Church is wise, you know, the Church is a mother, she's wise, and she teaches us, you know, what to do. Now at the same time, there's a struggle involved for many priests, I mean this is not something that just happened to me, unfortunately. You know, I'm the recognizable guy. I'm the one that they would call paparazzi for, which makes it all the more stupid, you know, for me to be in that situation. But I believe that I was motivated by love for someone. By a good thing, a healthy and a good desire in my heart. And at the same time, I just need to make decisions. And I shouldn't be making them in public. But that's exactly what happened.

RODRIGUEZ: You say you love her. Will you continue this relationship? Are you thinking marriage? Children?

CUTIE: I'm now in the process of thinking about all those things, of making decisions. And my bishop has given me the time to think about it. So this is a difficult time. It's a time of transition. A time of thinking about the future.

RODRIGUEZ: But you have not broken up with this woman?

CUTIE: Well, what you mean by breaking up as, you know, saying, 'this is it, it's over'?

RODRIGUEZ: Cutting off the relationship.

CUTIE: I'm in the process of thinking about the future. I think that when you love someone, you just don't kind of say good-bye. You know. The pictures came out, this is it? No. I think you have to assume your responsibilities in many ways.

RODRIGUEZ: Has she said what she would like for you to do?

CUTIE: Do you know any woman that doesn't want to get married to the person they love? I mean-

RODRIGUEZ: But you're not ready to give her that yet?

CUTIE: I think I need to pray. And I need to think about things. And I need to make a commitment. I am ready to assume my responsibilities, and I am ready to begin, you know, on the road to that, if that's what God wants. And I feel in my heart that maybe that is what God wants. So I have to go through a process of decision-making that is both a Church process and a personal process.

RODRIGUEZ: But that would require you to leave the Catholic Church. And you haven't said yet whether you will or not. Have you made that decision? Will you leave the Catholic Church?

CUTIE: That's what I'm in the process of thinking about right now. I'm not ready to answer that publicly. I first I have to talk to my bishop, who's the person that I first have to respect and honor because I made that commitment.

RODRIGUEZ: Alright, Father Albert Cutie, thank you for your time this morning.

CUTIE: Thank you.

RODRIGUEZ: Appreciate it.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC