UPDATE: I deleted this post, because I am very dismayed at the actions Fr. Corapi has taken recently. These actions have not negated the fact that I believe he’s innocent of the original allegations against him, but I did not want to be perceived as participating in his attempts to malign his accuser. That said, many people are accusing me of having been against Fr. Corapi all along, so I am restoring this post to prove that I have supported him previously. Secondly, the mental health status of his accuser says nothing about her accusations. In his “Black Sheep Dog” posts, Corapi has claimed this woman is an alcoholic. So what ? He reiterates the claim, which inspired this post, that she assaulted some of his employees, and claims there’s a police report. So what? Neither of these accusations necessarily negate the possibility that her claims are true. He claims he has phone messages. Again, the fact that she may be mentally unstable has nothing to do with whether she’s telling the truth. And isn’t this the strategy in all such cases? Isn’t it the classic sexual harrassment/rape/sexual molestation defense to attack the alleged victim’s character? Again, I’m not making any judgements either way, just to say that his attacks on her character really are irrelevant to the matter.
Ok, I haven’t blogged about this yet, because it has been quite devastating to me.
In terms of contemporary “famous people” (as in, not including relatives, friends or dead saints and writers), the two people most responsible for shaping who I am today are Mother Angelica and Fr. John Corapi, SOLT. I could name some others who would be in a top ten or twenty, but Mother Angelica, directly and through founding EWTN, helped me to appreciate the beauty of the real Vatican II. As for Fr. Corapi, his influence has been more personal rather than intellectual. Years ago, I found that one of the most effective treatments for my tendencies towards depression and despair is to turn on Fr. Corapi. He really puts things in perspective. Also, Fr. Corapi’s preaching, and his life story, and the stories he shares from his ministry, give a kind of reassurance about life for me.
In terms of the whole hermeneutic of discontinuity, Mother Angelica showed me how to understand Vatican II. Fr. Corapi showed me that there really are saints like the “old days.” I listen to him, and I think this is what it would have been like to hear Vianney or Pio or Bosco preach. I listen to his story, and I’m hearing a modern day St. Augustine. I listen to his stories about people he’s encountered, and he reminds me that we should never look down on anyone because we don’t know the pain they’re in or the desire in their heart for God, and we should never put anyone on pedestals because we never know what sins are going on their heart. So he also helps me with my own tendencies to maybe bit a little judgemental or prideful. I often think of two equal and opposite stories: the night he got a call and ended up going to a bridge in the middle of the night talking a 14-year-old girl out of suicide, who had already been a prostitute and drug addict for 3 years; and the time he rescued a brother priest from a den of sin. Carrying the unconscious, drugged up priest from the building, Corapi found a .45 Magnum in his face (“It wasn’t the first time I had a gun in my face,” he says). He faced down the drug dealer and walked out. His stories are so amazing that they either validate the stuff we read about in the lives of the saints or else they’re completely manufactured (though he has also responded to that criticism by saying, “You can’t make this stuff up!”)
Thus, it was very disturbing to me to read last week that Fr. Corapi has been suspended from his Order and the diocese in which he has faculties (namely, the home diocese of his order, Corpus Christi, TX) because of an allegation by a former employee. Apparently, some woman who used to work for his media company sent a letter to Fr. Flanagan (founder of the Society of Our Lady of the Trinity) and several bishops (including the bishop of Corpus Christi and the bishop of the diocese where Fr. Corapi actually lives), accusing Corapi of having sex with her and multiple other women, and of being back on drugs.
Following the “zero tolerance” policy that the USCCB put in place in 2002, Corapi was put on administrative leave and suspended of his faculties.
Now, if “the Scandal” had at all been handled properly by the media, the Church, and the rest of us, more emphasis should have been placed upon the real cause of the Scandal:
Namely, ironically, bishops are overly concerned with avoiding scandal.
The problem wasn’t really whether bishops were or were not properly dealing with priests who were sexual predators. Many bishops did try to deal with such priests in the best of their knowledge and abilities. As many cases have shown, bishops often went to the civil authorities with no results because the civil statute of limitations had passed, or there was some other legal technicality. Many bishops, like Cardinal Law, listened to the psychologists who told them the abusers were “cured” and able to go back in ministry.
The real problem was, and is, that bishops try to avoid “scandal” in the generic sense of the word. Bishops are big on propriety. That’s one trait the Church, and our culture, has inherited from ancient Rome. In Rome, everything was about image. There was no criminal law in Rome. Roman civil law was voluminous and complex, but criminal law was mostly unwritten and mostly arbitrary. If you disturbed the peace, you were guilty. It didn’t matter if you were a mass murderer or a prophet: if you upset the cart, you died. That’s why they killed Jesus. He hadn’t done anything “wrong” except cause everyone to be upset.
Well, that’s often how bishops act. A person is a little to prophetic? A little too zealous? Cut them off. A *priest* is a little too prophetic or a little too zealous? Pressure him, order him, and find some way to get rid of him if he doesn’t stop. Ship him off to the same mental hospital you just sent the pedophile to. Someone comes to you with an accusation about a priest? Well, start by blaming the accuser. If the accusation is credible, then deal with it in whatever way best keeps things swept under the carpet, whether that’s transferring the priest to another diocese, shipping him off to a mental hospital, or whatever. Someone’s sued the Church? Settle.
That’s how bishops do things. So, before, they erred on the side of inaction and offended justice to keep a sense of outward propriety. After the Scandal, they came up with a “zero tolerance” policy which also offends justice while maintaining propriety. Now, priests are guilty until proven innocent.
So a priest is accused of having consentual adulterous relationships with women (whether sex with a priest is always sexual assault is a matter for another day, though apparently the folks at SNAP think it is–but then it’s OK if the priest leaves the Church and “marries” the woman afterwards) and of doing drugs. He’s accused, in short, of sinning.
There’s no accusation of abuse or molestation. There’s no allegation of crime (other than whatever crimes may be involved in drug addiction). He’s not accused of being a threat to anyone.
Yet he’s completely removed from ministry because of this one allegation. His reputation is forever tarnished because of one letter.
It’s been a week now. If there were multiple women, as his accuser states, it would seem one would have come forward. If he were on drugs, a simple drug test can prove that (as _House_ has shown us, a blood or urine test may be negative, but drugs can still be present in tissues and hair).
In a statement last week, Fr. Corapi denied the allegations wholeheartedly, and criticized the process of “zero tolerance” as being unjust and violating Canon Law (he is not the only one: both Bishop Robert Vasa and Archbishop Fabian Bruskewitz have taken a lot of heat for publicly opposing this policy and refusing to implement it in their dioceses). Noting that he holds no anger against those who “pulled the trigger” in being obliged to implement this policy, Corapi asked for prayers for all parties.
This whole news last weekend was very disturbing to me. The way I see it, every potential solution is bad, from here out, save for a miracle of complete exoneration (for example, Paul VI gave Padre Pio a blanket exoneration for all the many false accusations against him by saying, “I have never been badly disposed towards Padre Pio, but I have been badly informed”):
1. The woman recants. Well, as many of us are wont to point out, the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin’s accuser recanted. Then, when he was dying of AIDS, the accuser said his story was true all along and he only recanted because of pressure from “the Church” (by which he probably means the Lavendar Mafia). Even if she recants, people will still look askance at Fr. Corapi and presume this is another case of the Church sweeping it under the carpet.
2. Same will happen if he’s exonerated, unless there’s some kind of incontrovertible evidence produced.
3. If he *is* guilty, I wouldn’t be bothered by that so much. I mean, he’s the first to say “Don’t put priests on pedestals.” He’s had several years of being almost completely out of the public eye due to health problems. He’s obviously under a lot of stress and pressure. No, what bothers me is that he denied the allegation so emphatically. A lot of people have noted how unusual that is. Most people, even when innocent, hem and haw a bit. No, what bothers me, if he’s guilty, is that he did deny it, so that’s a lie, especially when lying has been such a topic of conversation in Catholic circles lately. That Fr. Corapi should fall back into sin wouldn’t invalidate his preaching: if anything, it would reaffirm his preaching all the more, since he preaches about the importance of repentance and holding each other up because we’re all sinners. But if Fr. Corapi lied so publicly and blatantly, *that* would mean that nothing he says is credible.
And regardless of his guilt or innocence, it’s one thing when the man accused is a Joseph Bernardin or a Rembert Weakland or a John Geoghan. When it’s a priest who is known for heterodoxy, liberalism, promoting moral licentiousness, opposing traidtion, etc., it’s kind of like, “He’s practicing what he preaches.” However, when it’s a priest who is known for theological orthodoxy and presumed upright living who gets accused, it really challenges one’s faith. It’s even understandable with a case like Marcel Maciel or with the Fraternity of St. John (they were a group of Traditionalist priests who got their own order in Pennsylvania in the 1990s. All the priests in the order had been rejected or kicked out by the SSPX because of their homosexual inclinations, and they had been kicked out by the FSSP after that; they found a sympathetic bishop and swindled him into letting them have their own Society), where it’s not the “it’s OK to break the rules” kind of abuser but the “I’m doing this as a way of punishing you for your sins” kind of abuser.
But when it’s a priest who’s seemingly well-rounded, orthodox and properly compassionate, even fairly saintly, then that hurts. It also makes one wonder if the saints we’ve heard were “falsely accused” really *were* falsely accused or if that was another case of the Church brushing things under the carpet. Well, one easy answer there is that bishops don’t like people who rock the boat. Padre Pio was accused because he rocked the boat, and the accusations were given support by some people in the Church because Padre Pio rocked the boat. John of the Cross rocked the boat, and that’s why he was locked in a church prison for 3 years while they hunted around for an allegation that would stick. So that’s why we know those people were innocent.
I’ve been a very outspoken supporter of Fr. Christopher Buckner, who was suspended by Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington in the spring of 2007 for vague allegations of “improper contact” with a parishioner way back in 1994 and has been in some kind of canonical limbo ever since: promises of a thorough investigation by the Diocese and Civil authorities resulted in what my mother in law described as a witch hunt, and apparently no positive evidence was found or else we’d have seen a complete criminal process and/or laicization process by now.
Instead, Fr. Buckner was, at last I heard, doing full time work in a soup kitchen. Now, I’ve always admitted that I could see Fr. Buckner fitting the Maciel type, and I’ve discussed his case at length here before, but it’s seeming increasingly unlikely since it’s been four years, and there has been no canonical or criminal action taken against Fr. Buckner. Fr. Haley, whom Bishop Loverde also tried to silence for “rocking the boat” too much, has been in canonical limbo for almost 10 years (November 1, 2001), with a case that was supposedly sent to the Vatican for review back in 2004.
Thus, what I fear most in Fr. Corapi’s case is that he’ll end up like Fr. Buckner or Fr. Haley. There are a lot of people who’d like to get rid of him, and this just gives them an excuse. They can let this “process” linger for years, without any serious investigation, or even if they do a serious investigation, and it turns up nothing, they have no obligation or motivation to acquit him and return him to ministry.
That’s what scares me.
However, Bobbi Ruffatto, a Vice President of Corapi’s Santa Cruz Media has issued a statement that Fr. Corapi’s accuser is a disgruntled ex-employee who assaulted Ruffatto and another employee upon being fired and threatened in front of witnesses to “destroy” the priest. Ruffatto also noted that, since Santa Cruz Media is a private corporation and not in any way affiliated with the Church or claiming a “Catholic” status, they are not under any obligations to suspend promotion and sale of Fr. Corapi’s videos.
UPDATE 2: Even when I first wrote this post, I was not precluding the option that Fr. Corapi’s accuser is mentally unstable *and* he is guilty of what she’s accusing him of. If the statements by SOLT are correct–and a reasonable person should presume they are–then that sounds like that’s exactly what’s going on.