An Israelite Without Guile
Fr. Corapi: Death of Irony, Limits of Tragedy
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live," Joan Didion writes. "We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five." Since the Saturday before last, Catholics have been busily telling themselves stories about Fr. John Anthony Corapi. Corapi, host of a popular weekly show on EWTN, was recently placed on administrative leave pending investigation into charges—which he strongly denies—of conduct unbecoming a priest.
For Corapi to have committed the alleged acts—which, he has revealed, include accusations of "sexual exploits" with multiple women and "drug addiction"—is unthinkable to many. For one thing, Fr. Corapi is an evangelist of singular gifts; when the news broke, one internet commenter after another credited him with either bringing them into, or keeping them in, the Church. But more importantly, Corapi famously renounced a profligate life in order to answer the call to holiness. That a man, once redeemed, could backslide, despite living the ecclesial life 24/7, is the kind of idea that can shake a person's faith.
Most of the responses share a basic common form. Fr. Corapi is the victim of slander, somehow encouraged by forces ranging from the political—"In this Socialist Democrat era anything goes," one poster thundered—to the supernatural. The best-thought-through of the least earthly narratives goes:
Perhaps Our Lady is so fed up with the implementation of the "Guilt by Accusation" policy that has neutralized & damaged so many of her sons who are innocent that she interceded with her Son to intervene.
Perhaps He wants one sacramentally configured to Himself, so well-known and beloved, being subjected to this in order to provoke among His faithful so great a hue & cry that this institutionalized policy of travesty is eliminated once and for all.
I have to confess, I like these stories. Believing so firmly in the complete innocence of a total stranger, even a compelling and gifted one, takes real nobility of spirit. It demands a willingness to trust, to risk the kind of disappointment that tosses a person into a state where, as Didion puts it, none of the scripts make sense.
I see this with special clarity because I lack those qualities. Stunting their growth is a residual attachment to irony. When I speak of irony, I'm not using the debased, hipster definition, meaning a belief in meaninglessness. No, I mean the stubborn sense that Fate gives us exactly the opposite of what we expect in order to teach us how foolish we are to expect it. Looking for a guru? Of course he'll turn out to be a bum—and he'll do it at the worst moment imaginable, in a way that will feel like a dart between the eyes. Drag yourself out of the muck, and you will, by virtue of your very gifts and talents, find some way back in.
Even as a small child, I had a basically ironic view of God. I saw Him as the grand monkey's paw, a Being who would trip you up not for failing to be good, but for failing to appreciate His subtlety. For example, when I was about 6 years old, I had a consuming fear of vampires. I decided that I could protect myself best by sleeping in a small space between my bed and the wall, where I would be harder to get at than meat from a picked-over crab shell. For good measure, I shut my door; since it scraped against the carpet, no vampire could possibly enter my room without waking me up.
Max Lindenman is a freelance writer, based in Phoenix. He has been published in National Catholic Reporter, Busted Halo and Salon. His Open Salon blog is here.