Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bishop defends Father Corapi

Bishop Rene Henry Gracida, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, TX, retired since 1997 came out on June 18 in support of Father John Corapi's decision to leave the public ministry of the priesthood. Bishop Gracida wrote on his blog Abyssum Abyssum Invocat the following:
I believe that he is justified in not seeking to clear his name through a canonical process; at the present time such processes are very flawed in most dioceses. Rather I would like to believe that he intends to try to clear his name through the civil courts. Since I believe that his accuser is a former manager of his media company who he terminated with some kind termination agreement, and since she has evidently sought revenge for her termination by writing to the Bishop of Corpus Christi denouncing Father John, I believe that it is possible for him to do so and I wish him every success in such an endeavor. The basis for his lawsuit would probably be defamation of character, libel, extortion, breech of contract, or whatever.
His post was longer, but that statement was the nut graph in my opinion. As I conjected Sunday (see Things to consider on Father Corapi leaving the priesthood), in light of Father Corapi's new ministry after leaving the public ministry, "perhaps he would be the Church's ally if he were to help purge impurities within Her walls."

Even though the bishop's statement above was made a day before my Sunday blog post, I didn't read it until today. So let me dovetail from my "Possibilities if Father Corapi is right" scenario from Sunday. If Father Corapi was right to step back from his public ministry, might one of the "consequences" of that action be to draw attention to a canonical system drastically flawed? Would Bishop Gracida have ever made such comments about a "very flawed" "canonical process" in "most dioceses"? In a best-case-scenario for Father Corapi, did his action set in motion a much-needed fix in canonical processes? Whether or not he anticipated this deliberately or whether he hoped something like this would happen I can't say for sure. But if the Church's processes wind up corrected as a result of Father Corapi's action, might that be considered a good fruit of his action? ( Granted, God in His sovereignty can work with good or bad actions that good fruit might be the result.)

One other thing I will cite here is Father Corapi's reaction to some of the accusations he's had in the last few days that he's out to get rich by selling his stuff and going off on his own. The bishop made a brief defense of that speculation by stating: "As a member of that Society (The Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity) Father John is not bound by a vow of poverty." And Father Corapi's own defense read on his blog earlier today (at The Black Sheep Dog):
Concerning money, most people know me through radio and television. My broadcasts for 17 years on both radio and television were absolutely free to the public. I was never paid for them by EWTN or any radio station, nor did EWTN or any radio station ever charge anyone to view them. The past several years I never charged a fee to speak at events either. Furthermore, I have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to various Catholic organizations, and directed millions more from benefactors that wanted to give it to me. I did not accept charitable contributions, although I could have received millions.
So that is his side of that issue.

One thing I find unspoken in this ordeal is back to what if Father Corapi is guilty of some ill behavior, and we consider the "Bishop was right" to suspend him scenario? Father Corapi would be guilty, his critics vindicated, and the powers that be would appear right to have identified a credible accusation. Would that absolve a canonical process that is still flawed in the minds of Father Corapi's supporters, such as Bishop Gracida? And would that absolve a canonical process that is flawed even according to those who are troubled by Father Corapi's decision, such as Catholic radio talk show host Al Kresta who wrote today:
I personally know 6 priests who have either been removed permanently or are awaiting disposition or have been looked at and left in ministry. All of them have complained about the process including the one that has been left in ministry. Obviously there is a problem.
Finally, I have seen a number of Father Corapi's critics defending Father Corapi's suspension, but I have not seen much in the way of why the accusation was seen as credible. Some of my comments appear first in the Al Kresta link above. The Society in which Father Corapi was a member (SOLT) made the following statements on Monday: "due to the gravity of the accusation...Fr. Corapi was suspended from active ministry" and also "If the allegations had been found to be credible, the proper canonical due process would have been offered to Fr. Corapi..." Neither of these statements sound like the accusation was deemed credible before the suspension began. I'm willing to hear the credibility of the accusation, but I have not seen the reasons yet.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Things to consider on Fr. Corapi leaving the (public) priesthood

So in case you didn't hear, this week Fr. Corapi withdrew from the priesthood indefinitely. Here is the video and transcript of his announcement.

A number of Catholics, including at least one of my favorite apologists, Jimmy Akin, have been very critical of him for making this decision.

The purpose of my post here is to help curb wild speculation and uncharitable comments that have prompted even the good folks over at Catholic Answers Forums to impose a temporary ban on Fr. Corapi threads, perhaps wisely.

Without getting into wild and uncharitable wild speculation myself, I think there may be more to this whole story than meets the eye.

On March 19, 2011, Father Corapi's website had the following statement:
On Ash Wednesday I learned that a former employee sent a three-page letter to several bishops accusing me of everything from drug addiction to multiple sexual exploits with her and several other adult women. There seems to no longer be the need for a complaint to be deemed “credible” in order for Church authorities to pull the trigger on the Church’s procedure, which was in recent years crafted to respond to cases of the sexual abuse of minors. I am not accused of that, but it seems, once again, that they now don’t have to deem the complaint to be credible or not, and it is being applied broadly to respond to all complaints. I have been placed on “administrative leave” as the result of this.

I’ll certainly cooperate with the process, but personally believe that it is seriously flawed, and is tantamount to treating the priest as guilty “just in case”, then through the process determining if he is innocent. The resultant damage to the accused is immediate, irreparable, and serious, especially for someone like myself, since I am so well known. I am not alone in this assessment, as multiple canon lawyers and civil and criminal attorneys have stated publicly that the procedure does grave damage to the accused from the outset, regardless of rhetoric denying this, and has little regard for any form of meaningful due process.

All of the allegations in the complaint are false, and I ask you to pray for all concerned.
As a previous purchaser from his website, I was privy to a March 25, 2011 email sent by Bobbi Ruffatto, vice president of operations at Santa Cruz Media which distributes Fr. Corapi's CDs. She wrote:
There is no evidence at this time that Fr. Corapi did anything wrong, only the unsubstantiated rant of a former employee, who, after losing her job with this office, physically assaulted me and another employee and promised to "destroy" Father Corapi.
Of course, her statement does not prove Fr. Corapi's innocence, but it certainly adds fodder to the intrigue.

On June 17, Fr. Corapi's statement (linked above in the opening paragraph) includes this:
I did not start this process, the Bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas ordered my superiors, against their will and better judgment, to do it. He in fact threatened to release a reprehensible and libelous letter to all of the bishops if they did not suspend me. He has a perfect right to do so, and I defend that right. Bishops aren’t bound by civil laws and procedures in internal Church matters. I agree with that, and would defend to the death the Church’s right to proceed as they see fit. He is the bishop and he has the right to govern as he sees fit. It isn’t an easy task. Many forces besiege him, including pressure from other bishops. ...
There is a general unwillingness or outright refusal by certain of the bishops to abide by applicable statutes of limitations, both in canon and civil law. There are good reasons for these statutes. Time has a way of clouding memories and distorting perceptions.

By the way, Canon Law does not dictate this. They choose to selectively ignore or violate both Canon Law and Civil Law, as they deem appropriate and or expeditious. Once again, they apparently have the discretionary power to do this, and if that’s the way it is I have to accept that as reality.

The bottom line is that the only way a just outcome is likely, in my view and that of my counsel, both civil and canon lawyers, is by accident, rather than as a result of the process.

I will not try to fight this irrational and unjust situation for the simple reason that I don’t want to be placed in an adversarial posture against the Church.
Now, we have a fair amount of contribution to this story from Fr. Corapi's side. We do not have much from the bishops or the female accuser in question which makes it difficult to compare the details. So I'll proceed as follows:

In this scenario, let's assume that the bishop (or bishops) is not the defiant character described in Fr. Corapi's statements. Let's assume that the accusations of sexual misconduct, whatever they may be, are true. And let's assume the bishop(s) overseeing this case have just cause to keep Fr. Corapi on administrative leave and unable to speak about the case.

In this scenario, Fr. Corapi would be guilty of lying since on March 19 he said, "All of the allegations in the complaint are false," and on June 17, he said, "They can’t prove I’m guilty of the things alleged because I’m not." He would be guilty of dishonesty and proneness to sensationalism such as with regard to the bishops.

The other factor against Fr. Corapi in this scenario is the sexual misconduct. Anyone who knows the story of his life knows that for 20 years before returning to the Church he lived as a "pagan," indulging in wine, women, and song with an addiction to cocaine to boot. Neither sexual nor drug addictions are easy grips to escape. And it would by no means be unprecedented for someone as entrenched in that lifestyle to have relapsed.

The Ruffatto statement above that says she was physically attacked by Fr. Corapi's accuser and that the accuser promised to "destroy" Fr. Corapi could still be true even under this "Bishop is Right" scenario.

My comments from this perspective will be longer because of my familiarity with Fr. Corapi and the amount of information coming from his side.

In Fr. Corapi's statement on leaving the priesthood, he said that it was proving very difficult to get a fair shake in light of bishops abusing the power they have the right to exercise. He said his decision was made in light of counsel from canon lawyers. So what advantage might Fr. Corapi have to leave the priesthood over this matter instead of fighting it out?

One possible motive would be his ability to speak freely about the case now rather than later (or ever). He is now 64 years old. Even if there were canonical options all the way to Rome, is it possible that his canon lawyers advised him that may take years? We also know Fr. Corapi's health has been in recent years the subject of discussion. Could that be a factor in him not even wanting to bother proving his innocence? Might he rather move forward with the projects he'd like to finish in his life and leave conjecture for speculators? And might living out the priesthood on administrative leave have prevented that work from getting done? We do not know, but these questions may shed light on a possibly wise reason for him to leave the priesthood at this time and bear the pains associated with that as a cross.

Another potentially reasonable cause for him to leave the priesthood is that he would not set a precedent for a priest to defy his bishop if he should choose to expose abuses in the Church from his new position in the laity. His statement does say he does not want to be placed in an adversarial position against the Church. But depending on what projects and information we receive from him in the future, perhaps he would be the Church's ally if he were to help purge impurities within Her walls.

Another factor in this scenario is then the culpability of the accuser. If Ruffatto's statement is true, the accuser may be mentally unstable and have conspired to "destroy" Fr. Corapi with false allegations. And compounding the vice of the accuser in this scenario is the complicity and motive of the bishop(s) in question.

I own a lot of Fr. Corapi CDs. And with the help of radio replays, I might venture to say I've heard most of Fr. Corapi's talks. Those who have heard him speak much know that he is not afraid to criticize bishops for behaving as "wolves in sheep's clothing." I remembered a particular comment he made about what some bishops said in a meeting at which he was present. I found the comments in his talk Apocalypse Now (Disc #2) from 1994. And let me add that was the first talk of his among at least 129 that I own that I reviewed to find the quote––so perhaps my memory is way better than it usually is, or God didn't want me to waste time looking! Anyway, in that talk, Fr. Corapi said:
I sat in a meeting not that long ago with a number of bishops and theologians. I sat between two bishops.
The one on my left said, "Well, we're wasting our time in this meeting."
It was on moral theology. I said, "Why's that bishop?"
He said, "Well, until we come out and publicly denounce Pope Paul VI and Humanae Vitae, we're wasting our time."
Yeah, the bishop said that. To my face. I didn't read it on the front page of The Wanderer. He said it. My hearing was fine. I made him repeat it three times to make sure.
The one on the right said, "I don't think we can talk much about formation of conscience, you know, it's in the Catechism. But you know we have to tell our people they have to form their conscience to the world around them."
"What? What do you mean by that?"
"Well, we're not the only ones with a good idea. We have to be up to date with people of our times."
I said, "Well, what do you mean that if the culture says that it's all right to commit mortal sin, we should form our conscience in accordance with that?"
He said, "Oh, mortal sin, I doubt there is such a thing."
Now if you would ever confront one of them with this, they'd deny it to your face. We tolerate evil men! And watch out, the consequences are about to come home to roost.
If this "Fr. Corapi is Right" scenario is true, are these words prophetic? The above statement may not refer to any of the bishops involved in his suspension. But it does show that he is capable of making comments that might not sit well with bishops fitting the description. Has Fr. Corapi irritated enough bishops who feel the sting of his words? And do they find it advantageous to shut him up?

One thought from a doctrinal perspective is also in order here. Some folks, Catholic and otherwise, do not always understand the charism of "infallibility" associated with the Catholic Church. As we saw in reactions to the pedophilia scandal of the Church in recent years, many people think the trueness of Catholicism as Christ's Church is ultimately debunked by the widespread sin by priests and bishops alike in that saga. But the protection of infallibility is something that pertains to the teaching office of the Church, not the personal impeccability of individual priests or bishops. The Church believes that the Holy Spirit protects the Church from ever proclaiming an untrue dogma. The Church believes all matters of faith or morals definitively taught by the Magisterium as a whole are preserved from error by the Holy Spirit (CCC#890ff). So in this incident with Fr. Corapi, if there are bishops who have committed pastoral sins, this would not discredit the Church anymore than did the sin of Judas or the hypocrisy of Peter (Gal: 2:11-14).

I hope and pray both the bishops and Fr. Corapi do that which is just. Fr. Corapi's autobiography is scheduled to come out August 5, 2011. Perhaps comments on this incident will be included. Will the Bishop scenario prove right? Fr. Corapi's scenario? A combination? Neither? Ultimately, I think time will tell us more about this incident and quell much of the wild speculation.

EDIT 6/21/2011: Technically Fr. Corapi didn't "leave the priesthood," but rather the public ministry of the priesthood. He can still celebrate the sacraments in private or in emergencies as I understand. EDIT 6/25/2011: Added "(public)" to title.