updated 5/31/2009 2:39:06 PM ET 2009-05-31T18:39:06

A popular Miami priest nicknamed "Father Oprah" said Sunday that "church is about forgiveness" during his first sermon since leaving the Roman Catholic Church after photographs surfaced of him kissing his girlfriend on the beach.

The Rev. Alberto Cutié (pronounced KOO'-tee-ay) gave the sermon at the Episcopal Church of The Resurrection in Miami. Episcopalian priests can marry, unlike their Catholic counterparts.

The cozy church was overflowing with supporters, with most in the congregation having to stand along the aisles or lean against the walls. Many in the crowd said they were not members of the church but decided to attend the service to support Cutié.

"This little church has been neglected, and membership is not great," said Jackie Fernandez, who attends another Episcopal church in the Miami area. She said within the year that will all change thanks to Cutié.

‘Love makes the world go round’
"If love was his mistake, then I'll still support him. Love makes the world go round," said Ysset DeCarlo, 44. She brought along her daughter Stephanie, 17, who made her confession to Cutié for her confirmation.

The former priest received a standing ovation and told several jokes, quipping at one point that "my stuff is in storage." He didn't directly address his relationship with his girlfriend.

"The spirit of God has been with me," he said. "And I'm going to tell you something: God is the only one we follow."

He also said church was about seeking God, not people, and added: "Church is about forgiveness." Cutié has said his decision to switch was made over time, not since the photos in a Spanish-language magazine rocked South Florida's Spanish-speaking community, where he was known for his good looks and as the host of a TV show on relationships.

It will take Cutié at least a year to be certified as an Episcopal priest.

His switch has drawn harsh words from Archbishop John Favalora, who said he met with Cutié after the photos were published and the priest didn't mention changing churches. Favalora has admonished Cutie and Episcopal leaders in Miami.

Cutié's girlfriend has been identified in local media as 35-year-old Ruhama Buni Canellis. He has not said if he plans to marry her, but noted as he became an Episcopalian that he "has seen the ways that many of my brothers serve God as married men."

Cutié headed the archdiocese's Radio Paz and Radio Peace broadcasts, heard throughout the Americas and in Spain.

Hosted shows on Telemundo
The Cuban-American priest was born in Puerto Rico and previously hosted shows on Telemundo, the second-largest Spanish-language network in the U.S. and the Western Hemisphere. He is also a syndicated Spanish-language columnist and author of the book "Real Life, Real Love: 7 Paths to a Strong, Lasting Relationship."

Ignacio Bolivar, 65, said he thought Cutié was intensely conflicted about his relationship with the woman and his views on marriage.

"I think he tried to tell the Catholic Church what he wanted to do. That he wanted to get married," Bolivar said.

Bolivar also joked about Cutié's talents as a speaker and good looks, in light of his switch: "The Catholic Church has to put ugly priests up there."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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