To be honest, I had not heard of Father Cutie (pronounced "coo-tee-ay") until recently, although he was apparently something of a media celebrity in South Florida and in the Spanish speaking community. He made the news because of his decision to leave the Catholic Church for the Episcopal church because he wanted to be able to be able to pursue both his religious calling and his natural human desire for romantic companionship, two things which, in the strange world of Catholic doctrine, are somehow considered contradictory. He decided that enough was enough, and now he is an Episcopal priest.
In the context of that news event, South Florida newspaper ran a story that tried to compare and contrast the Catholic Church with the Episcopal Church. I have never belonged to either of those churches, so the best I can do is make what are probably less than fully informed comments. The joke has always been that the Episcopal Church is "Catholic Lite", but, as the article points out, there is more to it than that. Nevertheless, it is true that a lot of ex-Catholics do end up being Episcopalians, because there would seem to be at least some similarities that would make an ex-Catholic feel somewhat more comfortable in that church than in more openly Protestant churches.
The question of sexuality is obviously one important question that impinged on Father Cutie's experience. It seems clear to me that the Catholic Church has historically held a view that deemed celibacy to be in some sense a purer way of life than one in which sexuality played a part. This unfortunate undercurrent (or sometimes overcurrent) of hostility towards such a significant part of human physical existence goes back at least as far as Augustine, but it can also be found in such non-canonical writings from early Christianity as the Acts of Paul and Thecla. The idea that such a basic part of our physical natures can somehow come into conflict with a higher calling reflects a kind of dualism about the physical and the spiritual, and in fact a hostility towards the physical.
Father Cutie is a famous example, but really he is just the latest of a long line of refugees, both famous and not so famous, from the Catholic hierarchy's intransigence on such matters as celibacy, homosexuality, the role of women, and freedom of theological inquiry. While the Catholic Church remains stuck in the dark ages in its views on women, for example, the Episcopal Church now has a female presiding bishop. The contrast is rather stark. The problem as I see it is that such medieval Catholic doctrines are not likely to be reformed any time soon. As one former Catholic priest quoted in the Florida newspaper article puts it,
"The Catholic Church is monarchical; we're democratic," says the Rev. Robert Deshaies, a former Catholic priest and current rector at St. Benedict's Episcopal Church in Plantation. "It's basically about how the church is governed."The leader of the Catholic Church appoints like minded people to choose his successor. The closest model that I can think of for how the Catholic Church handles papal succession is the old Soviet system, in which the politburo picked new leadership when the old ruler died, with membership in the politburo itself being hand selected by the leadership. It is true that out of the Soviet politburo system there did eventually emerge a reformer like Gorbachev, just as the Catholic system produced a reformer like John XXIII; and yet, this is perhaps that is where the analogy breaks down, because theological doctrine, unlike Stalinist orthodoxy, is much more immune to economic and political pressures, and furthermore recent popes seem to have taken careful steps to make sure that only like minded people inhabited the halls of church power. The point is that as a non-democratic institution, the people within the church are essentially powerless to effect real progressive change; power flows hierarchically from above, rather than democratically from below, and I can't imagine women becoming priests, let along pope, any time in the foreseeable future.
It seems that some Episcopal churches do try to offer themselves as a refuge for people who don't fit into the Catholic Church. The website for Trinity Episcopal Church in San Francisco, for example, mentions a group called Sophia in Trinity, which describes itself as "an inclusive community welcoming all those on the margins and especially those marginalized by the Roman Catholic Church: LGBT people, those that are divorced, remarried, those who witness to reproductive rights, all seeking justice and equality and the integrity of creation." Of course, that doesn't help much if you don't live in San Francisco, and I don't know how many similar communities exist elsewhere, especially in small towns.
It also seems that some Episcopal churches are more Catholic than others. The newspaper article reports,
Even in the American church, differences have emerged. "High Church" Episcopalians insist on Catholic-style liturgy, with bells and candles and incense. Their "Low Church" brethren have less formal worship, often like that in an ordinary Protestant church.Indeed, I once attended a service at one Episcopal church service that was quite "High Church"; it wasn't my style, and I walked out about ten minutes into the service. Had I had a Catholic background, however, my guess is that I might have felt more at home there.
All of this raises some interesting questions in my own mind about the role that loyalty plays in all of this. I know that there are many progressive Catholics, people who object to specific policies or theologies of the church but who remain loyal to it nonetheless. I admit that I don't really understand it; a church that has egregiously offensive views on gays or women and which is not open to popular change from below is not something that I would choose to be a part of. Of course, I wasn't brought up Catholic either, so clearly some kind of loyalty issue is going on that I don't understand.