Lessons from the allegations against Father John Corapi

You probably heard the news in late March that popular international speaker and Eternal Word Television Network personality Father John Corapi had been placed on “administrative leave” while the religious order to which he belongs, the Texas-based Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, investigates allegations of impropriety. 

Details of the accusations remain (as of this writing) unclear, but Father Corapi said in a statement on his website 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.” 

His indignation — both at the allegations and at his suspension — is palpable in the statement. 

And the reaction among Catholics was even more intense.  

Given the little information available, the strength of the reaction was a little surprising. At one extreme were Father Corapi’s diehard supporters, who claimed unshakable certainty that the accusations were fabricated and that his accuser must be a woman in the employ of the devil himself. (But how can you be certain? Weren’t Father Marcial Maciel’s supporters just as vehemently certain of his innocence before it became undeniable that he sexually abused seminarians and his own children, lived a double life with multiple wives and children, abused drugs and misappropriated his own order’s funds?) 

At the other end of the spectrum were those who seemed pretty willing — again before a scintilla of evidence was available — to accept the accusations as true. Why? Because Father Corapi is too much of an ecclesial rockstar, too vain (in that he appears to dye his goatee and use a suntanning parlor?), too popular? 

Until more information becomes available, I think there are at least two points worth reflection: 

First, the danger of excessive devotion showed to some priests. Priests should be respected, loved, supported, yes, but not idolized. And Father Corapi is not the only recipient of such attention. One of the things that has struck me as a reporter is the fierce loyalty parishioners have toward a priest of theirs who is accused — even with much more evidence than in Father Corapi’s case — of sexual abuse. I wonder if part of it is that it is easier to live holiness vicariously through those we perceive as such rather than do the hard work of self-reform; and so we choose to be blind to any possible unholiness on their part. 

Second is the real risk of damage being done to the reputations of accused priests. In some ways, Father Corapi will have it easier clearing his name if that is what it comes to because he is such a prominent figure with such a big pulpit, and surely will have a top legal team to assist him. Not all priests are in the same position. 

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