Leaving the Church for Love

PHOTO Dilemma: A Priests Struggle with Faith and Love
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Father Albert Cutie in his second book, "Dilemma: A Priest's Struggle with Faith and Love," shares his biography of choosing between the church and his heart.

Read an excerpt of the book below and then check out the "GMA" Library for more great reads.

PREFACE

Today, my wife and I attended her doctor's appointment and discovered that our baby is a girl. In a few short months, I will welcome my daughter into the world. I feel truly blessed.

I imagine every man feels a similar combination of joy, nervousness, and thanksgiving as he awaits the birth of his first child. For me, a former Roman Catholic priest who never imagined this as a real possibility in my own life, it is one spectacular moment on a very complicated journey.

I began writing this book in the midst of great turmoil — after marrying the woman I loved, being chased by the paparazzi for months, and finally making the decision to move on from the Roman Catholic Church I grew up in, to serve God in peace as a married Episcopal (Anglican) priest. Ironically, I began writing it at a beautiful retreat house owned by the Episcopal Church in Delray Beach, Florida, just a few minutes down the road from the Roman Catholic seminary and graduate school where I studied theology. I see this as yet more evidence that everything on the road of life is connected. Despite the bumps in the road to get to this point, I am grateful.

There is one particular story that illustrates my own situation well; it's one I told the first time I preached from the pulpit in my new parish, the Church of the Resurrection in Biscayne Park, Florida. It is about a captain who became lost at sea despite having sailed for decades and knowing the sea better than most. Those under his care had great respect for him. Somehow, though, for the first time in his life, he had miscalculated the length of their voyage. Now the freshwater supply for his crew had run out. The men were beginning to dehydrate and the old captain began losing all hope.

Suddenly, in the distance, they saw another ship and immediately began to signal it. As the ship drew closer, the captain and his men made signs that read "We need water. Please help us!"

The response from the other ship came quickly, but it was completely unexpected: a sign in big letters that read "Lower your buckets."

The captain was devastated. They were in the open ocean, obviously surrounded by salt water. He asked again for water to drink. Again, the other ship responded by showing the same sign: "Lower your buckets."

Although he had lost all hope, the captain was desperate and feared for the lives of his crew, so he finally gave the order to lower the buckets. When the sailors tasted the water, they were all amazed: It was actually freshwater! It had been there all along. The output and power of the Amazon River were so great that, even that far out to sea, there was still a substantial amount of fresh, drinkable water in the ocean.

This story illustrates how often we forget the importance of learning to expect the unexpected. Or, in the words of the great philosopher Heraclitus, "Unless you expect the unexpected, you will never find truth."

As a man who was once a celibate priest, I never expected to fall in love, much less to become involved in an intimate relationship that dishonored my promises and offended the Church, but that is exactly what happened. Despite the fact that I was in love with the ministry God had called me to, at a deeply personal level I had been struggling for many years with the feeling that I was missing something at the very core of the human experience: love and intimacy with another human being.

During my twenty-two years as a seminarian and Roman Catholic priest, I served several parishes, most recently at St. Francis de Sales on Miami Beach, right in the midst of the noise and nightlife of what is popularly known as South Beach. For years I was called "Father Oprah" by members of the media, because of my work hosting several Spanish-language talk shows and radio programs broadcast worldwide. In addition to parish work, I served as president and general director of Radio Paz and Radio Peace and wrote a syndicated newspaper advice column called "Padre Alberto: Advice from a Friend," as well as a book called Real Life, Real Love — 7 Paths to a Strong & Lasting Relationship.

I was fortunate to find good friends everywhere I went, from members of my parish to those of other denominations and religions around the world, as well as with countless celebrities and media personalities. Yet, despite my passion for spreading the love of God throughout the world and the deep satisfaction I found in my work, I often felt an inexplicable void within me.

In my capacity as a talk show host and advice columnist, I heard from many people who felt frustrated because they were having a hard time finding love in their lives. They would often ask, "Father, how do I find someone I can truly love and spend my life with?"

After listening to so many people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, I knew full well that, even though love is the greatest power in the world, it is also the most misunderstood. Love is not something we can calculate or actively look for, but something that often surprises us. Nobody really plans love. We call it "falling in love" because truly loving someone else requires you to let go and actually fall into the embrace of another.

Eventually, like that captain at sea, I lowered my bucket one day and discovered that the love I always thought was beyond my reach had, in fact, come into my life. Love can truly come when you least expect it, and in the most surprising ways.

This book is the story of my struggle to accept that love in my own life. On one level, it is a story about the Roman Catholic Church, the people who serve it, and the dilemmas they face when they try to reconcile their powerful love of God with their very natural desires to love another human being. This dilemma cannot be reduced to the basic fight between good and evil, because it isn't just about breaking a promise to the Church or committing a sin. It is more about the very real emotions and complex struggles experienced by those serving the Church as they try to do what God expects, what the institutional Church expects, and what others expect from them — no matter how unrealistic those expectations may be.

This is an important aspect of the story, because whether you find it sad or offensive, surprising or unsurprising, the fact is that many priests end up leaving their ministry after developing ideological differences with the Church they grew up loving and believing in so strongly. I know, because I was one of them.

In our training for the priesthood, we are led to understand that every decision, attitude, behavior, and word we utter must be connected in some way with this vocation we have received from God. What we don't realize is that we are bound to go through a series of transformations and personal struggles just like anyone else. We mature and grow, our perspectives evolve, and sometimes the very ideas of what we often hold so sacred change. Nobody is ever frozen in time.

This lesson — that each of us must be open enough to embrace our own experiences and give ourselves permission to learn from our own life journeys — is another important aspect of my story. This message applies to every human being, no matter what your religion or your relationship with God. Change — and our acceptance and learning from it — simply means that we are alive.

Regardless of what the future holds for you, when you are truly motivated by love and what is good — no matter what the world may say or think about you — you never really go wrong, even when you are perceived as making a big mistake. It is only by taking risks that we really begin to grow. All changes, no matter how radical, can lead you to the place you were always meant to be. That is where I am now.

I hope you will read this book as a different kind of love story. It is the story of a man who fell in love with life, ministry, and a woman. It is the story of someone who decided to go against the flow, even when the current was pushing strongly in the opposite direction. Most of all, it is the story of a man who has come to understand that God never gives up on anyone, no matter what.

I will always love the Church community I was born into and served for many years. I have a great deal of gratitude in my heart for the countless people who continue to live and work within it, including those who cannot speak their minds freely because of the positions they hold within the official Church. I am certain many of them would agree with a good number of the controversial opinions I express in this book, but I can only relate my personal experiences, or what I like to call my ideological evolution. I share them with you, opening my heart with the hope of contributing in some small way to the reform that I consider so crucial to one of the world's oldest and most trusted institutions, the Roman Catholic Church.

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