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Corapi: Why were warning signs ignored?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 05, 2011

Have we really learned so little, over the past decade, about how we should respond to charges of priestly misconduct?  

The fact that so many good Catholics are willing to cling loyally to the belief that Father John Corapi is innocent of all wrongdoing, despite so many clear warning signs, suggests that we still have not learned the necessary painful lessons. Consider:

  • Until today we did not even know what charges had been leveled against Father Corapi. SOLT, the apostolic society of which he is (or was) a member, had confirmed that he had been accused of misconduct. Other than that, every public statement about the accusations had come not from his accuser, nor from investigators, but from Corapi and his defenders. So one party to the dispute (the accuser) was following proper procedures, observing proper decorum, while the other (the accused) was seeking to try the charges in the court of public opinion. That in itself should have been enough to prompt suspicions that Father Corapi was unwilling to fight this battle on even ground.
  • Since the public did not know the nature of the charges, it was impossible for any objective observer to say whether or not they were plausible. Was Corapi accused of sexual misconduct, as most people assumed? Or was he charged with financial irregularities, or improper administration of the sacraments, or drug and alcohol abuse? The answer, SOLT has now informed us, is “all of the above.” By refusing to specify the charges, while lashing out against the accuser, Corapi sent another signal that he was uncomfortable discussing the facts.
  • Corapi announced that his accuser is a destructive alcoholic. Maybe she is; we don’t know. But his willingness to impugn the integrity of his accuser—who does not have the public stature necessary to defend herself—was churlish. How often have we seen the same pattern: the rush to attack the accuser rather than to weigh the substance of the charges? Corapi said that he had been accused unfairly, and his reputation smeared; now his accuser might say the same. And if he is truly guilty of abusive behavior, the public attacks on her constitute a second form of abuse.
  • Thoughtful Catholics are troubled by the realization that many priests have no doubt been accused falsely of molesting children, and are now suffering through the nightmarish procedures of the Dallas Charter. Father Corapi has skillfully tapped into those fears, claiming that he, too, is unable to receive a fair hearing. But he was never subject to the Dallas Charter process; by his own account, his accuser is an adult. Corapi was not suspended—as many other American priests have been suspended—because a single accusation triggered the implementation of the Dallas protocols. So when he was suspended, the only logical conclusion was that SOLT had found credible evidence of misconduct.
  • And why had SOLT found that credible evidence? Two explanations are possible. Either the evidence was there, ready to be found, or SOLT was part of a grand conspiracy. The public statements from Father Corapi pointed to the latter explanation—which is, needless to say, less probable. Yet he told his faithful followers that SOLT was not really the problem. The investigation had been launched on orders from Bishop Willam Mulvey of Corpus Christi. Yet Bishop Mulvey wasn’t really the problem, either, he said. In a transparent bid for the sympathy of conspiracy theorists, he said: “There are certain persons in authority in the Church that want me gone.” Sorry, but that’s not good enough. Father Corapi had stoked his own reputation as a fearless preacher—as someone who would tell the truth regardless of the personal consequences. Why was he now so coy about naming the “certain persons” who were trying to destroy him?
  • Corapi sued his accuser for breach of contract, because she had signed an agreement that she would not disclose anything about her work with his organization. Apparently other employees had signed similar documents. What sort of priest asks his employees and colleagues to sign non-disclosure agreements? What did he have to hide?
  • After announcing that he was voluntarily leaving the priesthood—choosing not to fight to preserve his vocation—Corapi assured his faithful followers that this would not be a major change. He explained that 90% of what he had been doing over the past years was unrelated to his function as a minister of the sacraments. At that point, any sincere Catholic should have realized that something was profoundly wrong. A priest who thinks that his life will not be totally disrupted by suspension from priestly ministry? The life of a priest should be centered on the Eucharist. A priest who can divorce his preaching from his sacramental ministry is a priest with a major problem. He is showing a tendency to compartmentalize his life. Such a man just might be capable of private conduct that was completely at variance with his public preaching.

So there were several bright red flags raised when Father Corapi was suspended from ministry, and then again when he announced that he was leaving the priesthood. And yet a prudent observer might have seen the signs of trouble even earlier. The real question today is not why SOLT investigated his behavior, but why the investigation was delayed so long.

  • His life story was dramatic, yet few of the spectacular items in his biography could be pinned down, and some claims seem to have been exaggerated—or corrected only after skeptics raised questions about them.
  • He brought in a substantial income from this speaking appearances, and the sales of his books and tapes. There was no public accounting for those funds.
  • He lived in isolation in Montana, surrounding by his colleagues (who, we now know, were pledged not to talk about what went on), not associated with any diocese, not under the regular supervision of any religious superior.

Like the late Father Marcial Maciel, the disgraced founder of the Legion of Christ, John Corapi has worked for years as a celebrity priest: encouraging a cult of personality, setting his own agenda, raising large sums of money that he spent at his own discretion, and—most dangerous of all—accountable to no one. It was a formula for disaster, and now the disaster has occurred. Again.

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Show 16 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Jul. 13, 2011 4:21 PM ET USA

    New Sister, I would use some other materials, or write my own. There are plenty around. It is a shame, but in reading postings on other blogs, I note that Fr. Corapi has misrepresented his military experience from the very start. What else has he "forgotten to tell the truth" about?

  • Posted by: rlloret6216 - Jul. 10, 2011 11:13 AM ET USA

    Thank you for the consistent truth telling on CatholicCulture.org. When rumors and opinions are flying about, your site offers clarity and facts. If you were no longer in business, we would be at a great loss for trustworthy Catholic news. In gratitude we continue our financial support to your work. My family and I learned much about Catholicism through the Sunday night teachings of Fr. Corapi on EWTN. We will continue to pray for John Corapi. "There but for the grace of God go I."

  • Posted by: frjpharrington3912 - Jul. 09, 2011 8:14 PM ET USA

    If the allegations raised against Fr. Corpari by his superiors are true then to be sure this is a very sad tale of the demise of a very charasmatic priest. His decision not return to his community in Texas, where he would have received the proper canonical counsel and fraternal support of his superiors to fight the alleged "false" charges would seem to indicate that his decision to leave the priesthood was really the culmination of many prior acts which unfortunately compromised his vocation.

  • Posted by: New Sister - Jul. 09, 2011 2:38 AM ET USA

    It is difficult to reconcile how one could be at once so orthodox and (apparently) deceitful. And what does one do with his materials, which are effective tools for apologetics and evangelization?

  • Posted by: Bill in IL - Jul. 08, 2011 12:10 PM ET USA

    Regarding the good tree, bad tree question, we must remember that God will use the weakest instruments for His greatest glory. I don't mean this to imply Fr. Corapi's guilt or innocence. I have learned from too many past situations that there is ALWAYS more to the story. In this case, there appears to be much more still to come out on this topic. I choose to pray and reserve judgement.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Jul. 07, 2011 3:11 PM ET USA

    I don't know anyone else, but I started to wonder about Fr. Corapi when I found out he had his own website. Then I started to see his programs where he was no longer preaching in habit. Then I noticed the use of hair dye (HAIR DYE!!!). Good Lord, folks! As Dylan (not Thomas) once observed, "You don't need a weathervane to know which way the wind blows."

  • Posted by: mdepietro - Jul. 07, 2011 1:28 PM ET USA

    None of us know the details of the Corapri case. I can understand how many would take Mr. Lawlers postion, focusing on the oddities in Father Corapri's behavior, I can understand his defenders, his preaching was clear and orthodox in a Church were most of the preaching was banal. In any case he is suing the accuser for defamation not only violation of the non disclosure agreement, so he intends to make a case the claims are false. Either he is mad or he has a case, lets let the jury decide

  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Jul. 07, 2011 11:52 AM ET USA

    Kudos, Phil. The biggest mistake was allowing him to go off by himself to Montana and have his own private corporation and property. That's not community life, a life for which he took solemn vows. That removes him from all accountability and SOLT has no one to blame for that but themselves. JDeFauw, re: non-disclosure agreements, yes corporations do it. But a religious priest with a private corporation doing it should have set off all kinds of alarm bells years ago.

  • Posted by: Steve214 - Jul. 06, 2011 8:33 PM ET USA

    Sensible article about a painful subject.

  • Posted by: Sed contra - Jul. 06, 2011 1:43 PM ET USA

    Bravo, Phil! Your essay is the best thing I've read to date on this sordid affair. As for the good tree/good fruit analogy, it must be tempered with two other considerations: 1) The truth of the Catholic faith has its own attractiveness and intrinsic power to convert even when preached by an unworthy minister, not unlike the sacramental doctrine of "ex opere operato." 2) Sometimes it takes a long time to realize how rotten a tree's roots may be. Call no man a saint until he is dead.

  • Posted by: jflare293129 - Jul. 06, 2011 1:27 PM ET USA

    Much of this analysis seems VERY problematic. A fairy casual lay observer could discern..irregularities..about his priesthood by two years ago or more. He's never been terribly secretive about his past; we knew about drug use and relationships long ago, before his priesthood. Even so, he appeared a member in good standing with SOLT. I took it as given that his order knew what he was up to. This situation implies they didn't. I find that VERY disturbing!

  • Posted by: rjdobie9424 - Jul. 06, 2011 1:07 PM ET USA

    To Timothy: the answer is that now Fr. Corapi is bearing very rotten fruit indeed, made all the worse by the fact that he "seemed" to be an angel of light. How many souls will now will leave the Church and be lost out of misguided loyalty to what appears to be a false prophet? As the old Latin saying goes: Corruptio optimi pessima.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jul. 06, 2011 12:06 PM ET USA

    We are first and foremost Christians and nobody is more important than Christ or his Church. It is human nature to latch on to those personalities who "tell it like it is" or say what we like to hear. Nonetheless, as the article demonstrates, there have been plenty of "warning signs." That is why the Church has rules with respect to discipline in the religious life. Our Lord told the apostles to "watch and pray" in the Garden. It is so important to direct our intellects and wills properly.

  • Posted by: timothy.op - Jul. 06, 2011 11:18 AM ET USA

    I would be very interested to hear anyone's hypothesis as to how Fr. Corapi's ministry was able to bear so much good fruit IF he was indeed living in sin. "Either declare the tree good and its fruit is good, or declare the tree rotten and its fruit is rotten, for a tree is known by its fruit."

  • Posted by: Art Kelly - Jul. 05, 2011 10:15 PM ET USA

    Even with Corapi was "riding high," I thought he was creepy.

  • Posted by: JDeFauw - Jul. 05, 2011 9:52 PM ET USA

    While some of the criticisms of Father Corapi's recent actions are valid,I would not yet assume that Father Corapi is guilty of all of the above charges until he has had his day in court. I have heard that when corporate management people are terminated, it is often par for the course to have them sign broadly framed non-disclosure agreements to not speak critically of the corporation as a condition for receiving a termination settlement. I would wait longer to draw any definite conclusions.

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