By Rev. Albert Cutie
Father Albert Cutie (also known as “Padre Alberto”) has had the special privilege of entering millions of homes throughout the world through a variety of television and radio programs, as well as his books and advice columns. He became the first priest to conduct a daily television “Talk Show,” broadcast nationally and internationally. Originally ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1995, Father Albert joined the Episcopal Church (part of the Anglican Communion) on May 28, 2009 and now continues to serve as a married priest in the Diocese of Southeast Florida. He is the author of Real Life, Real Love (Ama de Verdad, Vive de Verdad), a self-help book which became a bestseller in Spanish. His latest book, Dilemma, is a candid and controversial memoir. He is currently the Priest-in-Charge of The Church of the Resurrection in Biscayne Park, FL where he lives with his lovely wife, Ruhama, and their three children. FatherAlbert’s new radio segment and weekly newspaper column is entitled “Animo Para el Camino” (“Courage for the Journey”), an inspirational message for daily living. His website is www.padrealberto.com. You can also follow him on Twitter.
There is little doubt that Pope Francis has captivated the world with his personable style, humility and apparent openness to the issues facing contemporary society. This pretty generalized attraction also goes way beyond the boundaries of Roman Catholicism and other religious groups, as was recently confirmed when Time Magazine named him “Person of the Year.” The fact is that most of us are happy about this Pope, and we have not seen such a popular religious figure in a long while, capable of engaging the world’s media in such an intense way—and almost daily.
Yet, even with all the media hype, there remains a huge elephant in the middle of the room. The issue still to be determined, and the question for most of us inside and outside of the theological community, is whether the current Bishop of Rome is deliberately doing some much needed reparative public relations work for his Church, which has made him an admired “media star,” or whether he will take the next steps and go on to be a real reformer, a revolutionary within an institution which has proven to resist changes that many within its own ramparts called for since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
Observers looking at this phenomenon from a secular perspective and those of us who worked and lived within the structures of the Roman Church have witnessed how the last two papacies spent quite a bit of time and energy on the centralization of church power, re-translating the Roman Missal to make it more “faithful to the original Latin” and cracking down on any theological developments which could be perceived to challenge traditional formulas and/or interpretations. It must also be noted that the pain caused by the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and other members of the church took up much of the attention and resources of the Vatican Curia and the world’s dioceses, with much less emphasis placed on the centrality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church’s fundamental mission to proclaim it in a way that is accessible to the 21st century.
Now, we have Pope Francis and everyone keeps asking: “What will he do?” Listening to folks within and beyond the Roman Catholic Church, I perceive most people are praying for a Pope who will be the spark and leader of a new reformation that will positively impact Christianity and all faith traditions willing to open their minds and hearts to what could be a new spiritual era for the world.
With almost a year into his papacy, in order for Pope Francis to become the true reformer many of us would like him to be, the world will soon need to see that some of those signs of authentic renewal are actually being put into action by concrete steps, not just informal passing comments. The issues, ideas and possible pastoral developments listed below are based on conversations and thoughts from a variety of folks within the Body of Christ, some of whom have been working, praying and hoping for these kinds of reforms for decades. This “wish list” can be seen as some of those tangible changes many would like to see occur for the good of the Church and for the contemporary society it wishes to reach.
I will summarize my request for reforms in five areas:
- Keep reminding us that you are the Bishop of Rome and decentralize authority. Allow local bishops to have some of the autonomy and authority they enjoyed in earlier centuries. A more democratic church allows lay people, clergy and bishops to work together on decision making, choosing their own leaders and creating an atmosphere which confirms that “Christ is the head of the Church” (Ephesians 5:23). Authority in the Church should not be dictatorial and always perceived as “from the top,” but should be the result of authentic collegiality and consultation.
- Make the preaching of the Gospel a priority and depart from the concept of “a Church for the sake of itself.” Too much time and energy is spent on issues of governance and discipline—too much Canon Law—not enough Gospel. All of the baptized need to be motivated to rediscover their call to preach the “Good News” and invite others to a relationship with a loving God. Rediscovering the Bible as central to faith—and a profound study of the Sacred Scriptures—would greatly benefit Roman Catholics and all of Christianity.
- Commission a study by scientists, clergy and other qualified experts to look at multiple issues surrounding human sexuality as they pertain to today’s Church (i.e., Remarried persons unable to receive the sacraments, all forms of contraception as “mortal sin,” mandatory celibacy for all priests, categorizing homosexual persons as “intrinsically disordered,” etc.) and allow people to make decisions about their own sexuality by using their God-given reason and Christian conscience, not by impositions from the institutional church.
- Allow women to be fully admitted into leadership roles in the Church, including Holy Orders. The notion that only males can act “in persona Christi” is discriminatory and not consistent with the biblical tradition. Both men and women were created in the “image and likeness” of God, and both men and women should be able to serve God as ordained ministers. The fact that one of your predecessors said the entire topic was not even open to discussion is, in itself, a problem. The New Testament refers directly to a female deacon (Romans 16: 1-2).
- Invite the entire Roman Catholic world to rid itself of what appears to be a way too common religious ethnocentrism. Even though we live in the 21st Century, it is unfortunate to hear some Roman Catholic leaders and commentators speak as if theirs is the only “one true church” and a tendency to look down upon or dismiss other religious traditions and denominations, even within the Body of Christ. It is time to renew the Spirit of Vatican II, especially in the area of Ecumenism and Christian unity.
If these and other important areas become truly open to discussion and make it to some part of the Pope’s agenda for change in the coming years of his papacy, then we would all readily acknowledge that this new Bishop of Rome is, indeed, a reformer. Otherwise, the media’s honeymoon with Pope Francis may soon be over and we would all become witnesses of another missed opportunity for real reform.