October 18, 1999
HOLA, OPRAH. IT’S PADRE ALBERTO.
A TALK-SHOW HOST WITH SPIRIT.
By Veronica Chambers
TELEVISION PRODUCER NELY GALÁN was having a spiritual crisis. Burned out from work, the 36-year-old president of Entertainment for the Spanish-language network Telemundo went to Oaxaca, Mexico, on a retreat. She knew she needed someone to talk to, but, she says, like “a lot of us Latinos who are having problems,” she didn’t want a shrink. But she also didn’t want to go to a priest like her mother’s generation did. Then the idea hit her–what she wanted, and what many other young Latinos like herself want, is spiritual guidance in a hip, bicultural package. She spent the next year auditioning 500 Latino American priests across the country. Two weeks ago 324,000 Telemundo viewers found what Galán had been looking for: a talk show hosted by a 30-year-old Cuban-American priest named Father Albert, or Padre Alberto.
On the surface, Padre Alberto seems more like a character out of Central Casting than out of the Archdiocese of Southern Florida. He is six feet tall, athletic and handsome. That his last name is Cutié only adds to the superb package. As a teenager, Cutié (pronounced Ku-ti-ye), who grew up in Miami, was known throughout the city as DJ Albert and even hosted a weekly music show on public radio. Then, at the age of 15, he says, “I began to think about what God wanted me to do and I told my parents I wanted to go to the seminary. They were nervous.” Undaunted, he packed up his turntables and entered the seminary. In 1995, Cutié was ordained and began work at Miami Beach’s St. Patrick Church.
Cutié’s cutie-pie looks and tender age have not gone unnoticed by the female members of his parish. “Sometimes women say impudent things,” he says, shrugging shyly. What kind of things? “You know, they write letters and stuff.” Is he ever tempted? “I always say, ‘I’m a priest, but I’m also a man.’ The priestly vows are like any other kind of commitment. It requires a daily yes.” Galán likes to tease Cutié: “I always say what makes his good looks palatable is that you feel sorry for him. I mean he’s so good-looking and he’s not having sex.”
Cutié’s also not making any extra money from the TV show. Telemundo pays an honorarium to the church, while he continues to earn a regular priestly salary. But this hasn’t stopped fellow priests from giving him a hard time. “They started calling me Father Springer,” Cutié says. “I said, ‘No, it’s not Father Springer. It’s Father Oprah to you’.” On the show, Cutié tackles everything from the perils of plastic surgery to kids who hate their parents for bringing them to the United States. Telemundo has so much faith in Cutié that they are putting him on the air weekdays at 4 p.m. opposite the queen of Spanish daytime TV, Cristina. In the world of TV where ratings are everything, Padre Alberto is really playing David to Cristina’s Goliath. His fans think he can handle the competition. Sitting in the television studio before the taping of a recent show, two older women discussed Padre Alberto’s treacherous time slot. “Do you think he can survive against Cristina?” one woman asked. “Do you think God would let Padre Alberto be canceled?” the other woman answered.