Friday, May 15, 2009

Priesthood, Romance, "Falling in Love"

There is a scandal taking place in Miami over recent revelations about the popular and charismatic Fr. Alberto Cutie. He is a well-known radio and TV personality among Spanish speaking Catholics. A Mexican magazine published photos of Fr. Cutie hugging and kissing on a Florida beach with a woman; they were both in beach attire.

Fr. Cutie has acknowledged that it is indeed he in the photos. The Miami Herald reported that father first met the woman ten years ago. He stated to the Herald, "Falling in love is not something that I chose to do. It's something I have been struggling with for a long time." And further, "We have been friends for a long time. And there has been mutual admiration and attraction for a while, but the more serious relationship started in the last few months." According to the Herald, father wants to get married and start a family.

A brief statement by the Archbishop of Miami is here. An even briefer statement by Fr. Cutie is here. Father is currently on leave from pastoral duties. It looks like he will eventually seek laicization.

I want to comment on one particular aspect of this situation: the phenomenon of a Catholic priest "falling in love." Here are a few thoughts on this:

1. Any normal heterosexual man, no matter his state in life, has a natural attraction to women. This is the way nature works--the way God made things. This natural attraction is personal and particular and will manifest itself more strongly for some women than others.

2. The mere fact of there being romantic, sexual attraction between a particular man and woman does not by itself indicate that they have a vocation to become spouses to each other. It may, but not necessarily. There is more to an authentic call between two people to marry each other than having a mutually strong romantic attraction, as exciting and powerful as this can be.

3. For a married man or a priest or religious, being romantically attracted to a woman (not one's wife) while not acting on this attraction is not in itself sinful. (Though, dwelling upon lustful thoughts would be.)

4. Any man at some point in his life is going to experience some desire for a woman with whom his state in life precludes the possibility of his ever marrying. (Either he is already married, or is committed for religions reasons to celibacy.)

In the case of a mature and virtuous married man committed to being faithful to his wife, if he were to experience some sexual attraction to a woman other than his wife, he would take prudent measures to limit contact with her and to carefully arrange the context of any contact so as not to put himself in danger of fanning flames of desire that have no business being flamed. The human person is capable of using his mind and heart to react responsibly to desires that should not be acted upon so as to reduce the likelihood of these desires ever growing so huge that they are a serious problem. The counsel and company of prudent and mature men can be a great help in this.

In the case of priests and/or religious there is a parallel. As for married men, they need to take prudent steps, with the help of grace, to guard their commitment to their state in life. It does not happen easily or with merely minimal effort and commitment. This includes, first, an understanding that it is natural for a man to have a powerful experience--in the course of a friendly relationship with a particular woman to whom he is also especially attracted--of "falling in love." This experience does not have to mean a crisis of his vocation to a celibate state. However, living a balanced, healthy, sustainable celibate life requires, as a minimum, ongoing prayer, a continually (daily) renewed commitment of his whole mind, heart, and soul to his state in life, a clear understanding of the meaning of his particular vocation and how his celibate state is integrally linked to it, and the assistance of other trusted men to whom he is voluntarily responsible and accountable and to whom he can turn for support in difficult times. This, for the honor of God, the sanctification of his soul, and the spiritual good of others.

And so my point here is to observe that for both priests and married men, "falling in love" with a woman who cannot become their wife (if they are to remain loyal to their vocation and state in life) does not have to mean that they will inevitably leave their current vocation to pursue her. That is, if they posses the virtue and presence-of-mind to realize that such an experience, while difficult and a source of anxiety (it could even be called a cross), is not synonymous with a vocational crisis. It is a spiritual danger; a cross. But, with the careful use of grace-assisted reason, will, and heart to monitor and guard their thoughts and actions, it need not become a crisis. This requires each day that a stable personal commitment engaging all of their person be made anew. As an integral part of their daily fidelity to their vocations, they need to be always mindful of the validity, the significance, the deep meaning and great value to the world of their particular vocation and thus of their state in life as it is fruitfully intertwined with it.

Let us pray for all people of good will that we would implore the Lord's constant help not to allow our merely natural desires and attractions (good-in-themselves yet not infallible as indicators) to become crises that could lead us to step off the path of our true calling.

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