The Other Side of Celibacy, or Famous by Proxy, Pt. II

11 May 2009

I mentioned before that I seem to be famous by proxy, in that I’ve known a bunch of famous people, but that I am not famous myself.  From what I can tell, it’s a common condition.

I knew Padre Alberto when he was just Albert, a seminarian at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary.  I met him when I was a youth leader at a retreat held at the seminary.  We were actually supposed to camp out that weekend, as the seminary has fairly large grounds perfect for a few dozen campers.  But there were thunderstorms the first night we were there and even a tornado warning, so the camp was abandoned and we all headed into the seminary for the night.  I slept with the other youth leaders in, from what I remember, either a small auditorium or a large classroom.  The younger retreatants were in other rooms.

Albert helped us get the younger folks situated, and then proceeded to stay up with the youth leaders and talk about all manner of things.  Albert was different from the other seminarians in that he was friendly, affable, —in a word, normal— while the rest of the seminarians were more or less socially awkward.  Having been around a few seminaries in my life, that’s a fairly normal situation, no offense to seminarians.  If I was a seminarian, I’d probably be one of the social misfits as opposed to an Albert.

Albert at the time was probably 23 or 24, meaning he was a year or two from ordination.  We really got along well, and I admired him.  Here was someone I could relate to studying for the priesthood.

That summer, I volunteered at Miami Children’s Hospital, and one day in the lunchroom I ran into Albert.  Today, I know that what he was doing was working on his CPE, at the time I just thought he was working as a chaplain.  I saw him several times and we would talk and were friendly.

I always remembered Albert, but thought of him rarely.  One day a few years ago I turned on the television, and there he was: “Padre Alberto” on a Spanish-language station dispensing advice.  By this point he was Father Oprah, the young, successful TV priest, adored by millions of Latina grandmothers who wished he was the son (but more likely, nephew or, more ironically, the son-in-law) they never had.

I was happy to see his success.  That he was in the media was no surprise, as he had been a DJ before seminary, and was active in DJing a little bit into seminary.

This whole controversy has made me very sad.  Not so much because I am disappointed in Father Albert, but because the paparazzi and media take advantage of it for gain and for the ruin of a person’s life and sometimes several persons’ lives.

Albert made a promise of celibacy, and I feel he should have lived it out, but at the same time he had no choice.  Either be a celibate Roman Catholic priest, or be no priest at all.  I cannot blame Father Albert, because the very reason I did not go into the priesthood was because I did not feel called to celibacy.

It is possible that he may have been felt called to celibacy at 23 or 24, but that by his 30s he realized not.  At that point, what choice is there for a priest, especially a good one?  I feel he probably felt trapped, but still called to priestly ministry.

Please pray for Father Albert and all those who know him and are involved in this.

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