Sunday, May 31, 2009

How to evangelise. Not.

Over in Florida a Roman Catholic priest, with a high media profile, has been found sunbathing on a beach with his girlfriend. His name is Fr Cutie - I am not making this up! Well one thing leads to another in romance. You guessed it correctly: he has joined the Episcopalian church. (Shame on you if your thought I was thinking about a different romantic consequence - this blog is resolutely focused on Anglican matters).

It's become a mushrooming story on the internet with everyone getting in on the action, including some criticising others for the way they are running the story: try Ruth Gledhill, Damian Thompson, and Christopher Johnson.

One can have some sympathy for Fr Cutie. When cupid's arrows strike, life can be confusing; maybe especially so if one has taken vows of singleness in respect of service in the church. (Though we might have little sympathy for his alleged bad manners of not informing his superiors of his intention to submit to the authority of another bishop). But can we have any sympathy for his receiving bishop, Leo Frade, of Southeast Florida? On the one hand he has set back ecumenical relationships between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. On the other hand, he has said some things which, well, ... you be the judge! Try these comments (italics are mine) and rate them on a 1 - 5 scale, where 1 is Intelligent and 5 is Stupid:

[A] "''Father Cutié is removing himself from full communion with the Catholic Church and thereby forfeiting his rights as a cleric,'' Favalora [local Catholic bishop of Fr Cutie] said, later adding that Cutié is still ``bound by the promise to live the celibate life which he freely embraced at ordination. Only the Holy Father can release him from the obligation''

Not so, Bishop Frade said Thursday afternoon. ''That promise is not recognized by our church. If you can find it in the Bible that priests should be celibate, that will be corrected,'' Frade said. ``The only thing we can say is that we pray for ecumenical relations. . .I am sorry they are sorry, and we love them.''" (From a Miami Herald report)

[B] A letter from Bishop Frade to his clergy: "Dear friends,

As many of you know the Rev. Alberto Cutié has been received into the Episcopal Church as a layperson in the Diocese of Southeast Florida. News surrounding this move has received a lot of attention in the press. I have had several phone calls from newspapers and many emails from people all over asking about how they can join the Episcopal Church. My guess is that this Sunday many of our churches will be visited by people who are just learning about us. So I am writing to suggest that you prepare yourselves and your leadership to receive them. I recommend that you make copies of brochures about the Episcopal Church and that you might consider a forum after church to answer questions.

The scandal surrounding Padre Alberto and his girlfriend was unfortunate but because of his joining the Episcopal Church it has brought us to the attention of the public. I pray that we might be able to take advantage of this appropriately but without throwing this in the face of our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church." (As reported on Stand Firm by Greg Griffith)

Yes, that is the Anglican way to evangelise: welcome in Roman Catholic priests with a colourful media profile. The cuter the better. Not.

And then some in TEC wonder why Anglicans outside of TEC keep wondering just what TEC is doing in the Anglican Communion ... it seems like another religion ... with evidence appearing again and again.

UPDATE: OK, I have to admit that a truckload of people turned up for Fr Cutie's first sermon in an Episcopal church, as the Miami Herald reports here, including people returning to church for the first time in years. But did they turn up in droves at all Epicopal churches in Florida?


Anonymous said...

Your logic is up to its usual sharpness! If impropriety within your own church is alluded to in a comment, reaching to the highest level in your province, you choose not to understand the reference. But if someone is welcomed by TEC for not living up to a man-made requirement it is another demonstration that TEC shouldn't be in the Anglican Communion and that TEC is in fact "another religion" - not even Christian. I look forward to a revisit here when you similarly attack Martin Luther for breaking his celibacy vow and you denounce what that led to.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Very droll!
In this instance why I think TEC is, possibly, 'another religion', has nothing to do with the warmth of its welcome to sinners, and everything to do with it's strange understanding about the faith and integrity of other Christians.

The priest in question had made a solemn vow within the sacred and ancient ordering of ministry of the Roman Catholic church; but this was dismissed with a throwaway remark by the welcoming bishop. It further appears, though I recognise that news reports can be omissive of vital information, that the welcoming bishop overlooked encouraging the priest to follow the etiquette of the order to which he had bound himself.

Such behaviour is suggestive of a church which is comfortable being a law unto itself, and goes a considerable way towards explaining why so many entreaties of the Anglican Communion have fallen on deaf TEC ears.

As you say, my logic is up to its usual sharpness.

Anonymous said...

OK I’m following the logic now: TEC is not part of the Christian religion because you cannot find a news report of the TEC bishop encouraging Cutie to follow the etiquette of the order to which he had bound himself. Should Cutie have applied to the Vatican to change denominations before or after it had released him from his “solemn vow within the sacred and ancient ordering of ministry”? My history is a bit rusty: please remind your readers and me which way Martin Luther did this.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
By "possibly, 'another religion" I mean that TEC may represent a form of Christianity distinctive from the form broadly represented across the remainder of the Anglican Communion. I may be wrong.

Nevertheless I remain puzzled as to how a TEC bishop, on his published remarks, not on my failure to find a news report, could be so cavalier and, well, 'unAnglican' in his cavalier dismissal of Roman polity, seemingly ignorant of the efforts over the years to conduct a respectful dialogue with a view, one day, to ecumenical reunion.

If in hindsight, and with fuller news reportage it should turn out that Fr Cutie is a 21st century Martin Luther, that is, posting his protest against the iniquities and errors of his church, struggling to make his message heard, until, finally his church rejects him, and then subsequently finding his way out of celibacy sensing a new obligation to marry the last remaining nun in the local nunnery, all the while in peril of his life should his political supporters turn against him, then I shall be among the first to buy Fr Cutie's autobiography.

It will no doubt be a theological treasure trove, as with Luther's works.