MIAMI A popular U.S. Roman Catholic priest photographed frolicking with a woman on a Florida beach announced on Thursday he had joined the Episcopal Church to pursue the priesthood in a faith that allows married clergy.
"I've seen with my own eyes how many brothers of mine serve God as married men and with the blessing of having their own families," said Father Alberto Cutie, whose removal from his Miami Beach parish prompted public debate about the Catholic Church's celibacy requirement for priests.
The charismatic 40-year-old is a well-known religious leader in Miami who dispensed relationship advice on Spanish-language television shows, church radio programs and newspaper columns.
He was relieved of his duties at St. Francis de Sales parish in Miami Beach earlier this month after the entertainment magazine TVnotas published photos of him in swim trunks, snuggling and kissing a woman on the sands of a beach in Florida.
Cutie later said he had fallen in love with the woman and broken his vow of celibacy. He apologized for his behavior, but told the Univision Spanish-language television network, "I didn't stop being a man just because I put on a cassock. There are trousers under this cassock."
The woman in the photographs, identified in media reports as Ruhama Canellis, stood at Cutie's side as he held a news conference at Trinity Cathedral, where the couple underwent a ceremony to join the Episcopalians.
The Episcopalian church is part of the Anglican Communion, which traces its roots to the Church of England, formed when King Henry VIII split from the Roman Catholic Church in order to divorce and remarry.
The Episcopal church ordains men and women as priests, married or single, and has seen controversy within its own ranks for ordaining gay priests.
At his news conference, Cutie described his move as "going into a new family" and said he would continue to proclaim God's word. "I will always love the Catholic Church and all its members who are committed in their faith and have enriched my life in so many ways," he said.
Some Catholics expressed sympathy for Cutie and said it was time to end the celibacy rule. Others said that, given the recent scandals involving U.S. priests sexually abusing young boys, and Irish priests raping, flogging and enslaving children in Catholic schools, they were relieved that Cutie had merely become involved with an adult woman.
(Reporting by Jane Sutton and Tom Brown; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Patricia Zengerle)