Editor's Note: Father Albert Cutie participated in this interview with Beliefnet in February 2006. Recently, he was placed on leave after photographs of the priest with a woman on a beach were published in a magazine.

More from Beliefnet Blogs:
Father Cutie's Video on How to Build a Happy Marriage

Fr. Albert Cutié, a first-generation Cuban-American, is a parish priest in Miami's South Beach. Since 1998, he has hosted a variety of Spanish-language talk-show television programs that reach an estimated 24 million homes in 22 countries. He also writes a syndicated newspaper advice column, "Advice from a Friend." Dubbed "Father Oprah" by his fans, he has recently published a book, Real Life, Real Love: Seven Paths to a Strong and Lasting Relationship.

As a celibate Catholic priest, you've probably been asked this before. How can you give advice to married people and people who want to get married? 

You don't have to be mentally ill to be a good psychiatrist. I don't think you have to be someone who has a real problem in order to relate to people's problems. When you are in the help industry, especially as a priest, rabbi, or minister, you're constantly hearing from people talking about marriage or sexual dysfunction. People naturally turn to religious figures for advice. Half the people who write to me are not Catholic.

In the Spanish-speaking world, everybody gets that. In the English-speaking world, however, people always ask, "What authority does that person have to talk about relationships?" It's prejudices and biases and stereotypes about what a priest can and can't offer. But in the Spanish-speaking world, that's never been an issue for me, because those who have listened to my shows or watched them or read my columns, they get what I do: It's no-nonsense practical advice for everyday life. It's not dogmatic and pushing religion down your throat.

What advice do you give to single people about finding a mate who's right for them?

People usually come to me with a very definite idea of who the ideal person is for them. It usually has to do with some physical characteristic. I tell them: That's not important. What is important is seeking out someone you can love and give your life to. You have to base your search for a mate on the capacity to form those strong and lasting relationships.

What is the biggest impediment in today's society to forming strong and lasting relationships?

The biggest issue is courtship and how people meet. There are things like speed-dating, where people say they are too busy to spend a lot of time getting to know someone and want to form a lasting relationship based on just a couple of dates.

When people are serious about a relationship today, they have to be careful not to fall into the traps that are out there. For example, rushing into physical intimacy. The relationship begins with the carriage in front of the horse. We rush into this very deep aspect of the relationship before we know each other, before we share our common values and goals for life. People are getting hurt left and right. In my book, I talk about how to establish the foundations first.

You talk in your book about our very high divorce rate. Are married people not making enough effort to save their marriages?

There's a difference between getting out of a marriage because you've been abused, mistreated--and you've tried everything and there's nothing you can do--and going into a marriage thinking if things don't go my way, I'm getting out. There are good reasons to separate and divorce when there's an abusive relationship, when things are not well, and when people are inhumane with each other.

But the real issue is that people go into marriage thinking, "When things don't go my way, I'm outta there." Just that attitude is single-handedly responsible for lots of divorces. People are not willing to struggle enough to keep this thing going. When they have issues—sexuality issues, communication issues, just basic unhappiness with themselves—they think, "If I get out of this, I'm going to feel better."

What you find with a lot of couples is that they leave their marriages, get remarried, and find the same dissatisfaction once again. It doesn't actually get better.

Divorce is never easy. It usually creates a real long-term emotional struggle, and people suffer. In some cases, it's the only way out—I totally understand—but in many cases, it's the attitude you enter the marriage with.

Have you been able to persuade people to stay in a marriage where the problems weren't those obvious, serious ones such as abuse?

I've never seen that as my role. What I try to do is to facilitate the couple with two things. First, to be totally honest with them, to be that third party that tries to be as neutral as possible. Second, I try to give them some common sense, practical advice without the guilt trip of "Oh, you're failing your marriage." People need a helping hand, not a judge. Let God be the judge.

When I see that the couple is serious, which most of the people are, I send them to counseling. I don't want them to think if they came to me, that's it. No. You came to me, you're beginning to scratch the surface. You need to commit yourself to a long-term counseling situation.

Psychology Today, which is not very church-friendly, put out a study—I believe in 1987 or so, I was in the seminary and I remember reading it with great care—it said Catholic celibate priests are among the best marriage counselors. People said, "Why?" Well, because when people come to them, people believe their advice is not just based on a common-sense practical psychological authority, it's also based on a spiritual moral authority. If the priest says to them, "You know, you need to seek a counselor," people are more prone to follow through.

In the book, I say, "Seek wise people, people who have lived successful marriages, and talk to them." A lot of girls having trouble in their marriages, who are they hanging out with? Their divorced and separated friends. Well, guess what? That ain't gonna help you very much.

We have life coaches for work, we have mentoring programs. Why don't we have mentors for our personal lives and relationships?

Your book seems to gently prod people toward what is essentially a traditional Christian view of marriage: fidelity, sticking with marriage for the long haul, self-giving. Will those Judeo-Christian values work for everyone? A lot of people who have no religion must come to you.

If you want to enter a lasting relationship, you need common human values, apart from the spiritual values of faith and religion. Sometimes we may confuse traditional Christian values with basic human values: respect your neighbor, treat others well. But the book offers a perspective of faith. Faith and spirituality somehow help couples. It helps those who are seeking something more, a greater challenge.

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