Posted by: L. E. Barnes | July 1, 2011

Fr. Corapi Makes His Exit

Well-known preacher Fr. John Corapi, in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct (allegations that he denies), has decided to make his exit from the priesthood. Our Sunday Visitor reports:

Father John Corapi says only he knows “the real story” behind his controversial decision to leave the priesthood. 

Father Corapi announced June 17 that he was leaving the priesthood and the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) because he could not get a “fair hearing” on the sexual misconduct allegations lodged against him in March by a former female employee of his Montana-based Santa Cruz Media Company.

The popular preacher and public speaker also said “certain persons in authority in the Church” wanted him gone, said that his due process rights were violated, and accused Bishop Wm. Michael Mulvey of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas, where SOLT’s headquarters is located, of ordering his SOLT superiors to suspend him “against their will and better judgment” or else he would publicly release the letter his accuser had sent to several bishops detailing the allegations against him. 

Normal procedure 

Marty Wind, spokesman for the Diocese of Corpus Christi, declined to respond to Father Corapi’s statement. Wind told Our Sunday Visitor that the bishop was following canon law when he advised the SOLT that an investigation had to be conducted in accordance with the order’s constitutions. 

The Diocese of Corpus Christi also released a statement that said “it would be inappropriate for the diocese to make any comment on those proceedings other than that they were in progress and were being guided by the SOLT Constitution and in accord with the Code of Canon Law.” 

Father Gerard Sheehan, the SOLT regional priest servant, issued a prepared statement explaining that it was “normal procedure” that Father Corapi be suspended from active ministry and placed on administrative leave, due to the nature of the allegations. 

Father Sheehan said the investigation was still ongoing when Father Corapi told the order on June 3 that he could no longer function as a priest or a member of SOLT because of “the physical, emotional and spiritual distress he has endured over the past few years.” That effectively halted the investigation, which had not reached a conclusion on the credibility of the case. 

“If the allegations had been found to be credible, the proper canonical due process would have been offered to Father Corapi, including his right to defense, to know his accuser and the complaint lodged and a fair canonical trial with the right of recourse to the Holy See,” said Father Sheehan, who added that the SOLT was “deeply saddened” by Father Corapi’s response to the allegations. 

“The SOLT will do all within its power to assist Father Corapi if he desires to seek a dispensation from his rights and obligations as a priest and as a professed member of the SOLT,” Father Sheehan said. 

Father Corapi may have also complicated SOLT’s investigation against him. The National Catholic Register reported he sued his accuser for breaching a non-disclosure agreement. Other Santa Cruz Media Company employees reportedly signed similar agreements, which prevented SOLT investigators from interviewing the principal witnesses in the case. 

Messages left for Father Sheehan at SOLT’s international headquarters in Robeson, Texas, were not returned. 

No one answered multiple telephone calls to Santa Cruz Media Company. Bobbi Ruffatto, the former vice president of operations for Santa Cruz Media, released a statement in late March defending Father Corapi. Contacted last month by OSV, Ruffatto said she resigned from the company on May 31. 

“I am deeply saddened by the situation but cannot comment further,” Ruffatto told OSV.  

David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, told OSV that Father Corapi’s accuser — whom neither the priest nor Church investigators have named — reached out to the victim’s group recently and he judged her complaint credible. 

“She, even now, refuses to publicly lash out at Corapi,” Clohessy added. 

Father Corapi said on his “Black SheepDog” blog that he had filed a civil defamation lawsuit against his accuser on the advice of the founder of SOLT, Father James Flanagan, and retired Bishop Rene Gracida of Corpus Christi. 

“Why would they do this? Because they felt it was the only way I could receive a fair and just hearing,” wrote Father Corapi. He could not be reached for comment by OSV. Father Flanagan also could not be reached. Bishop Gracida did not reply to an email message seeking comment.

The full article is here.

On his blog, the (soon to be former) Fr. Corapi has listed complaints about how accused priests such as himself are treated by the Church under the current system:

1.    The identity of the accuser is not revealed. You can guess, but you don’t actually know. Nor are the exact allegations made known to you. Hence, you have an interesting situation of having to respond to an unknown accuser making unknown accusations (unknown to the accused and his counsel).

2.    The persons chosen to investigate the allegations normally have no qualifications to do so. They certainly didn’t graduate from the FBI academy, nor do they have any other background to qualify them to interrogate or otherwise interview witnesses.

3.    There are no set rules of evidence or norms of procedure.

4.    You are for all practical purposes assumed guilty until you can prove you are innocent. This one is truly baffling. No civilized society operates that way. If you are accused of something you are considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

5.    The accused and his counsel have no right to obtain and review any of the evidence against him.

6.    The accused and his counsel are not provided the names of witnesses, nor are they permitted to cross-examine them.

7.    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.

He goes on to add:

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. For 20 years I did my best to guard and feed the sheep. Now, based on a totally unsubstantiated, undocumented allegation from a demonstrably troubled person I was thrown out like yesterday’s garbage. I accept that. Perhaps I deserve that.

I can’t do what I can’t do. I can only do what I can do. I shall continue, black sheep that I am, to speak; and sheep dog that I am, to guard the sheep—this time around not just in the Church, but also in the entire world. I am, indeed, not ready to be extinguished. Under the name “The Black Sheep Dog,” I shall be with you through radio broadcasts and writing. My autobiography, “The Black Sheep Dog,” is almost ready for publication. My topics will be broader than in the past, and my audience likewise is apt to be broader. I’ll do what I can under the circumstances.

I’m new to the Church and know little about canon law, so I’m not in a position to comment on how fair or unfair the Church’s rules and procedures are. Is Fr. Corapi guilty? I pray that he is not. As I’m sure many other people are, I’m very disappointed not only by this whole scenario but by his decision to cease serving as a priest. Is it for the better, however? Perhaps only God knows at this point. May justice be served and right prevail. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

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Responses

  1. I hope that Fr Corapi is innocent. I feel uncomfortable, however, with the way he is dealing with it. But it is not for me to judge. All I can do is pray for all involved.

    • I’m not sure what to make of his handling of the situation either. But yes, hopefully he hasn’t done anything wrong, and we’re really not in position to judge him or anyone else involved in this matter. God help them all.

  2. The former bishop of Corpus Christi and a noted canon lawyer spoke out in support of the actions Father Corapi is taking. Everyone assumes he is leaving the priesthood. That is not exactly what he said. He may be in the position to say Mass privately according to what agreements he may reach with SOLT. He is right about it being wrong for priests to not know the identity of their accusers, although he does know the identity of his. This is very messy and calls for a lot of prayer. He has never lived in community like the other SOLT members and he doesn’t strike me as being someone suited to community life. Let’s hope this situation ends up well for him, the Church and souls.

    • I too don’t understand why an accused priest is not told who their accusers are. In our justice system, the right to confront one’s accusers is pretty much sacrosanct. Why doesn’t the Church follow that example?
      I agree that Fr. Corapi seems the type suited for public ministry, not in an enclosed religious community. Yes, hopefully it will all turn out well for him in the end.


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