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The celibacy rule: Why one priest left the Catholic Church for love

Father Alberto Cutié was a priest in the Roman Catholic Church for years before he confronted an internal struggle that made him leave. He fell in love.

Father Alberto Cutié was a priest in the Roman Catholic Church for years before he confronted an internal struggle that made him leave. He fell in love.

After his relationship with the woman was disclosed, it was clear that he had broken the church’s vow of celibacy. He eventually married that woman, started a family, and is now an Episcopal priest. He turned the experience into a book called, “Dilemma: A Priest’s Struggle With Faith and Love.”

As Pope Francis finishes his first week as the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, one of the issues he may confront while ushering the church into the modern era is the celibacy rule for priests.

“It’s not incompatible for a man to be married and to be a good parish priest,” Father Cutié told msnbc’s Joy Reid Saturday. Maintaining a marriage and a family will put priests more in touch with the challenges of their parishioners and make them better advisers, he argued.

“People in the parish understand the married priest in a way that they did not understand the celibate priest because there is a connection. They too have families. They too get up at  3 or 4 in the morning to change diapers,” he said. “They can say to people ‘hey, you know what, your struggles are my struggles.’ Right now priests are very much protected in the Roman Catholic church by the big institution.”

If Catholic priests start having families, Father James Martin noted one unforeseen problem: finances.

“It would actually make it a little more difficult for the church to support families of the priests,” he said. “For people who are in favor of it, I think that’s something we tend to overlook. In other words, they’d need bigger salaries in a church that is already not paying priests very much.”

But in other denominations, Father Cutié contended, religious leaders are already making it work.

“Some congregations struggle financially, but for the most part, they support and sustain their priests and their families quite well because priests are independent people who have to be responsible for their own families and their own situations,” he said, “Saying ‘oh let’s keep celibacy because that way finances will be okay,’ I think that’s very irresponsible.”

He said he receives letters nearly every day from women around the world who are having priests' secret children. “I’m not saying all priests are unfaithful to celibacy, but for a good number of priests, celibacy is just not working out. So to try to ignore that as a reality, we can’t ignore it.”

Father James Martin argued that despite "some outliers and some sinful people," the “vast majority” of people in religious orders are keeping their vows of chastity. “Even though it may be difficult for them, they are keeping their vows," he said. "It’s not widespread.”

A recent CBS News/New York Times poll found that 69% of American Catholics want the new pope to support married priests, while 26% opposed it.