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Father Figure Gets New Talk Show

Broadcasting comes naturally to Father Albert Cutie. In 1999, Telemundo was looking for a priest to host a talk show, and after a search chose the former Roman Catholic priest (whose name is pronounced Cue-tee-ay). PadreAlberto ran for several seasons; Cutie has also hosted the talk radio show Hablando Claro con el Padre Alberto, which aired on the EWTN radio network in the U.S., Canada, Spain and all over Latin America.

But Cutie's fame -- or infam --”grew when he was photographed kissing his girlfriend, now his wife, Ruhama Buni Canellis, on a Miami beach. After some soul-searching, Cutie left the church, became an Episcopalian and continued his ministry. Today, Cutie and Canellis have a 7-month-old baby girl.

On July 11, Debmar-Mercury is launching a five-week test of Father Albert in six Fox markets: WNYW New York at noon, KTTV Los Angeles at 2 p.m., KDFW Dallas at 1 p.m., WTVT Tampa at 11 a.m., KMSP Minneapolis at 1 p.m. and KSAZ Phoenix at 1 p.m.

Prior to that launch, Cutie spoke with B&C Contributing Editor Paige Albiniak. An edited transcript follows.

You created quite a stir when you were caught kissing your then-girlfriend in Miami. What do you make of all that now?

When my situation first came out, it was very painful and it was treated like it was some grave, horrible scandal. I never expected my personal struggle to be such a public focus of attention.

Nobody should feel like they are living a double life. That's why I called my book Dilemma, because I really was having a dilemma. A dilemma is a very deep struggle that human beings allow themselves to be in because they don't know 100% which direction is really right for them. I've always loved ministry and I loved being a priest. But I've also always been a family man and paternal figure. That's why I believe God ultimately called me to be an Episcopal priest.

What can you say about the new show?

The show will be about people's dilemmas and how they deal with them. My dilemma was solved once I allowed myself to move on and make the decision. But many people live in a dilemma forever.

I think the show is going to be very exciting because there's not a whole lot of this in television right now. We have a lot of judge shows and shows that are driven by journalists and media people, like the Anderson Cooper show, or even the Oprah show. My show will be from a much more practical self-help angle. I'll listen to people's dilemmas, and people in the audience will interact with those dilemmas. The key will be finding the solution. There's no dilemma without hope. At the end, we all just have to be happy with ourselves.

Will the show have a spiritual or religious angle to it?

It's funny: Mr. Rogers was a Presbyterian pastor who helped children every day. When I watched him I saw a minister, even though he never talked about that on the show.

I think you can minister to people and help people as a nurse, as a doctor, lawyer, judge or priest. I think people come with what hurts. Sometimes that's an emotional or spiritual dilemma. Part of this program's ethos is to look at the emptiness, sadness and struggle of life and see what we can do to make it better.

For me, it's always been about keeping it broad and accessible. We are focusing on people's dilemmas regardless of where they are from. I have always believed that you have to honor people from where they come and where they are at.

I'll say what Oprah said at the end of her show: we really have touched people's lives and that's what makes the journey worthwhile. That's what my life is about: helping people figure out the dilemma.

What led you into the priesthood?

I was a very social kid, and I was a deejay when I was a teenager. That led me to understand a little bit of what people look for in life and, in some ways, to be happy. At that time, music was an important part of my life and all my friends' lives. As I started looking at the lives of all the people around me, I started realizing that there was more to life than noise, dancing and partying. My world became two worlds: the world of spirituality and church, and the world of music and dancing. In the end, God's noise was louder in my mind.

I thought that I was going to do away with microphones and media. I had my own music talk show on the public radio station in Miami. It aired on Friday nights and the music was great. But when I entered seminary, music was over for me. I did no media work. It wasn't until my third year as a priest back in 1999 when I got a phone call from a Spanish-language network [Telemundo] to host a talk show in Spanish.

Staying with my music wasn't as important to me as bringing people closer to God, helping people live a better life and doing everything I could to make the world a better place.

How did this new show come to be?

I had been invited on several occasions in the last several years to make this transition. People would ask me to "do that self-help stuff you do in English." But I would always put it off. When I became an Episcopal priest, the bishop of that church said, "I don't want you to abandon your media ministry." He had been the Bishop of Honduras for almost 20 years, and he knew me because I had been in 22 countries throughout Latin America. He always saw the power of my media ministry. So when I got the invitation to do the talk show from Debmar-Mercury, he told me to go for it.

People call you "Father Oprah." Why do you think that is?

I remember telling Oprah Winfrey when I was on her show once that it wasn't me who came up with that phrase, but the people who were watching the show and could see and understand what it was in Spanish. I think that name was directed at the self-help type of talk show that I was doing. It wasn't just a talk show to exploit people's problems. At the end of the show, they felt like "˜I can live a better life. I can get over this trauma, dilemma or difficulty." People could relate to the kind of thing that I was trying to create.

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