Charity, Corapi and the Rule of Two Negroes

In my teens, I was an obsessive reader of Bill James’ Basebal Abstract. Anyone who’s familiar with the book will know that James doesn’t content himself with number-crunching — although he does more of it than any six accountants I know. No, for James, fanboy that he is, no detail relating to the National Pasttime is beneath dissection — not changes in the uniforms, not trends in nicknaming, not even the looks of the players. In the 1985 edition, he goes out of his way to name the ugliest player from every decade since, if memory serves, the 1880s.

For ugliest player of the 1960s, James nominates Don Mossi, who, I believe, pitched for various teams in the National League. Possibly because Mossi, unlike some pics for previous decades, was alive at the time of the book’s publication, James excuses himself this small cruelty by explaining, “Don’s so ugly that the rule of two negroes applies.”

According to James, the rule of two negroes — presumably coined when the word “negro” was still considered polite — forbade any sportscaster from noting a physical resemblance between two African-American ballplayers. It’s easy to understand the reasoning — no network wanted to promote the idea that “they all look alike.” But that was only clause one of the rule. Clause two obliges the sportswriter to remark on such a resemblane when failing to do so might make him seem inattentive, or just plain blind. Don Mossi’s ugliness was like that — so remarkable that ignoring it would mean abandoning his journalistic duty.

In other words, be sensitive and circumspect until your circumspection and sensitivity make you look like a bloody fool.

I found myself reflecting on it yesterday as I read through some of the comments to my blog post, “To Fr. Corapi: Bupkes; To John Corapi: Concern and Sympathy.” Some readers believed that I was wrong for noting that Corapi’s voiced-over farewell to the priesthood was fraught with “too many discordant notes, too many mixed messages,” and might signal a tenuous grasp of reality. Even if the evidence suggested these facts to me, I should be silent, in the name of Christian charity.

That’s when it hit me: charitable silence ends where the rule of two negroes begins. Putting a good gloss on questionable behavior is fine — until the behavior becomes so odd that explaining it away becomes an act of willful ignorance, or worse, enabling.

In his most recent broadcast, Corapi reaches that point — in fact, executes a graceful grand jeté over it. Where? How? Very well, then — by the numbers:

1. He imputes only the worst motives to the investigating authorities: “There are certain persons in authority in the Church that want me gone”: “the most likely outcome is that they leave me suspended indefinitely and just let me fade away.”

2. He presents his dilemma in melodramatic terms: “I have only one of only two viable choices: 1. I can quietly lie down and die, or, 2. I can go on in ways that I am able to go on.”

3. He swings between extremes of humility and grandiosity: “I have been guilty of many things in the course of my life, and could easily and justifiably be considered unfit to engage in public ministry as a priest;” “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.”

Does the role of two negroes apply? Me, I feel like I’m watching Tracy Morgan with a bad hangover.

If anything, the explanation I provided — emotional distress compounded, perhaps, by a misuse of psychiatric medication — offers Corapi an out. A less generous observer might interpret the thing as a calculated hustle: Corapi wants people to listen to his radio program, and to buy his autobiography. To do that, he first must sell them a narrative of victims and villains. It’s not enough to make people side with him; they’ve got to side against someone else.

I don’t rule any of that out. There’s nothing incompatible about genuine instability and an effective hustle. John Holmes’ agent once said, “The best hustlers hustle themselves first.” He meant that conviction adds force to a sales pitch, especially when the product might have some difficulty selling itself. If you want people to believe your story of institutional malice leading to a kind of judicial murder, you’d better lead the way. If you’re suffering from a sincerely felt — if outsized — sense of persecution, well, thank goodness for small favors.

Although I spoke of Corapi’s “treating the faithful like easy marks,” his decision to st up shop on his own is not what bothers me. As long as he abides by the rules Deacon Greg reports, then fine — caveat emptor, de gustibus non disputantum est, and all that other Latin good stuff. What I object to most strenuously is the drama — Corapi’s own lobbing of unprovable accusations. Not only does that create division, it makes him no better, in the end, than the persons and bodies he accuses of railroading him.

I realize that a pundit who is himself in imperfect step with the Magisterium had beter justify himself PDQ when he condemns divisive behavior. I suppose the difference between my approach and Corapi’s is tonal: I try not to rail or vilify, I certainly don’t claim to speak with any particular authority. (If anyone called me a shepherd, I’d laugh and tell a filthy joke about a Greek and a Welshman.) Corapi, it seems, feels irresistibly drawn to do all these things.

But if I have to emphasize one aspect of Corapi’s message over the other — that is, the distress or the hustle — I’ll take the distress. It calls for a sympathetic response, like prayer, not a hostile one. Even if it doesn’t succeed in bringing people together, it at least ought to; the potential is there.

You could say I’m invoking the rule of two negroes. They look so much alike I’ve got to say something about them. But, in the interest of charity, I’ll say much more about the one on the right.

  • Deb

    I agree, ignoring something so obvious is not right, and when someone makes a PUBLIC announcment, it is done knowing it will be discussed.

  • http://piercework.typepad.com Jenewingpierce

    Nice post.

    I’ve had Weezer in my head all morning.

    Interestingly–always the purveyor of irenic ambiguity–the Catechism notes in the same section about detraction, calumny, and rash judgement, about adulation, flattery, and complaisance. As usual, the guidelines from Catholic teaching call out the individual to use his free will in judgement about treading the line between these two poles. Grand jete right over some obviously difficult things to accept and you may be entering into the realm of adulation, flattery, and complaisance. Adulation is key here, because even prior to scandal, a figure like Corapi, through no fault of his own, is always in danger of culling adulation form his “sheep.” However, in his statements is he encouraging adulation?

    The bottom line is he has chosen civil proceedings over ecclesial ones, secular ministry over the possibility of restoration to his priesthood, and he has invited us to disregard canonical proceedings as being relevant. What is to stop that recommendation from spreading to everything that the Church issues with any authority whatsoever? Are you seeing Weezer, yet?

    I have no doubt that there are deep flaws in the canonical process as it is now figured. I have no doubt that he is in deep distress and that he is anxious, wounded, and flagging. I equally have no doubt that his ministry was powerful, charismatic, and often deeply truthful. For all these things he deserves great mercy and charity.

    But.

    If you want to destroy my sweater
    Pull on this thread if you walk away.
    If you want to destroy my sweater
    Watch me unravel i’ll soon be naked
    Lying on the floor, lying on the floor
    Ive come undone

    Pull the thread in one spot and the whole thing comes undone. Either we submit ourselves to Church authority or we don’t. Even when that authority is flawed, imperfect, and subject to human corruption. He has enjoyed great power as a minister of our Church–submitting to this authority, whether he feels it is perfect in justice or not, is the cost of that power. Seems that now, having borrowed that power, he isn’t willing to pay his tax. And he wants to further borrow its reflection–the reflection of that power he once had, and the reflection of having been its unwanted son in a fight for truth and justice.

    So I disagree with what Corapi has done here. He’s pulling on my favorite sweater.

  • HCSKnight

    Well, you certainly nailed the parts about being whimpy and hedonistic….

  • diane

    So true that successful hustlers have to hustle themselves first. That’s why I was such a lousy Avon Lady.

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  • Mindy Goorchenko

    To the people who state outright that we should not judge his actions at this time~~we “have never been in his shoes,” “how would WE respond,” etc., this type of relativism strikes me as dangerous and unnecessary. A priest is called to stand in the person of Christ and that means following him to the Cross. I know Padre Pio’s name has come up repeatedly in these conversations because the truth is that we remember for centuries and beyond those priests who endured injustices and persecution, even from within the Church herself, and responded like Christ.

    It seems he is leading us to follow him away from his priesthood. But I don’t know how to separate him from the priesthood in my mind without wandering into dangerous spiritual territory. Praying!

  • Woodardj

    Right. Rings hollow, though why? unclear.

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  • Kathy

    I agree that numbers 1, 2 and 3 are correct. Concerning number 3 – I believe he is referring to his earlier sinful ways and how he could be considered unfit because of them. Number one has happened to priests, at least one other one that I know about for a fact. Number 2 really are the choices he has left. I think he’s opted not to be silenced and fade away. I, for one, am very anxious to see what happens next. If he preaches anything that doesn’t jive with church doctrine THEN I will re-think all of this. People are very naive when it comes to the powers that be within the church. Satan tries very hard to work inside the church-hence all the liberalism in churchs today. A wonderful traditional priest I know is always sent to very tiny churches because of his traditional views. He’s beloved in traditional churches here. But our bishop is very liberal and he doesn’t like traditionalists….You can bet there are a lot of people that want Father Corapi silenced. IF Father is filing anything in civil court, as has been mentioned, maybe all the facts will come out. You should know that there was a female employee at Santa Cruz Media whose final exit words were “I’ll destroy Father Corapi”.

  • Kevin Tierney

    http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/father-corapis-bombshell

    Well this sheds a lot of light on what happened.

    And while we are called to practice charitable judgement, we are also called at the same time not to blind ourselves to reality.

    What really happened? Who knows? Yet in light of the statement from his superior, this looks bad, REALLY BAD.

  • Guest

    The facts speak for themselves. When he states he is does not know his accuser because his superiors are withholding that information, and then we find out he darned well does know who she is and is suing her, then there’s no need to be anything but direct anymore. He’s a liar and a grifter. Call him what he is.

    His followers are gullible, weak fools. Sad, sure, but at some point you stop feeling sorry for them.

  • Holly in Nebraska

    I am worried about the image of the sheepdog. The bishops are the shepherds of the the church. His language seems to suggest that he is taking that place for himself. Ironically, EWTN broadcast the episode about Numbers by Jeff Cavins yesterday. In Numbers, many people were trying to usurp Moses’ position. “Is Moses the only one through whom Yahweh has spoken? Has he not spoken through us too?” (Nb Ch. 12; see also Ch. 16). I doesn’t end well for any of them.

    Charity would suggest he is suffering some mental/chemical problems. But then, where are his superiors? His spiritual advisor? How does it get this far out of hand? Who is in charge? Who does he believe has authority over him?

  • Beenhustledonceortwicemyself

    It’s well and good to put charitable spin on things when you get hustled, but it’s also important to try to learn from it HOW you got hustled. Unless you want to keep getting hustled.

    That’s why I think it is important that people keep investigating to see if there were signs of messianism, grandiosity, and persecution-complex in this man way back in the beginning. If he did indeed start this whole enterprise with an eye to making some bucks of the Truth of Jesus Christ, while never really planning to live that Truth for himself, it’s important to look back to see what signs were there so that perhaps the next time a Catholic celebrity decides to make a bundle off peddling Truth, we will recognize it and not enable him to build an empire on it so that he can fund his jet-setting lifestyle.

    We can still be charitable in the sense that none of us has a clue what he has gone through that caused him to act this way. Only God can judge hearts. But God expects us to judge actions so that we don’t keep getting conned over and over again. It’s not charitable to allow ourselves to get hustled over and over again in the name of charity.

  • Guest

    There were. Corapi has claimed for years now that there are people out to get him, and that people set traps to catch him up (most specifically by sending babes to tempt him, lol!). He’s been setting the stage for this and grooming his thralls for quite some time now.

    I suspect he’s down to rock bottom when it comes to devotees, tho’. Probably not the rich and fabulous set, ya know?

    I imagine he’ll go through his reserves pretty quickly and won’t be able to maintain the lifestyle to which he is accustomed on the proceeds of the poor, demented, illiterate few who are still sticking with him.

    How much you wanna bet that Montana property hits the market before the year is out?

  • YossiNitzan

    Matthew 5:22

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PMTLR3IIGKPHZ2YNU3PDXWK4WA Kenneth

    I don’t know the real facts of Corapi’s case, and as an ex-Catholic, I don’t care in spades. However, the man and his diehard followers have a real cult vibe to them. This guy strikes me as someone for whom Jesus and all the rest is completely secondary to his own image, his own power, his own following. All of the core dynamics of this guy – the personal messiah complex, the paranoia, the extreme vindictivness, the characterization of himself as the One True Voice against evil, the utter rejection of any form of accountability….this stuff is point for point the same as what you see in Scientology or Jonestown.

  • Greg

    Sorry to hear that you’re an ex-Catholic, Kenneth and I think you’re missing out by “not caring in spades.”

    Not incidentally, I left and came back some 25 years later (my parents stopped going to church after I was confirmed) ..and came back amidst the sex scandal as it hit Boston. Let me tell you, it was tough to come back during that time (at first the aim was just to have my child baptized) but it took a very traditional, othodox priest to bring me back.

    Fr. Corapi’s sad case is anothe let-down. But don’t let it distract us from the truth of the faith . I had often thought something was off about Corapi and especially recently. This is a kick in the teeth but we must pray for him ..and his many “fans.” I, too, enjoyed his preaching and one hopes the message remains true even if we should again be skeptical of a priest who is put on a pedestal largely outside of the instituion for too long.

  • Mary Rita

    I teach public relations, and always tell my students “If the public thinks you have a problem, you have a problem.” Corapi has a problem, but it’s not the one he thinks it is.

    Too many details of Corapi’s story don’t add up. The fact that his book is coming out now and he had registered the Black Sheep Dog name a year ago tells me he was planning this change and possibly knew this whole thing was coming down. Announcing it as if it were a new thing is part of the cover-up.

    I also think, looking back at some of his earlier videos, as well as this most recent statement, that he could be bipolar. The illusions of grandiosity coupled with the “people are out to get me” theme smacks of some kind of mental illness. I have a bipolar in-law and this behavior is identical to his.

    Let’s all pray that Corapi gets the treatment he needs, sees the error of his ways, makes resititution where/if necessary, and gets on with his life. Let’s also pray that people stop following spiritual leaders who thrive on a cult of personality. Otherwise, John Corapi will be lumped into the same sad category as people like Jerry Falwell and other televangelists who have fallen from grace.

  • Pdjmary

    Very insightful and great analogy.

  • Pdjmary

    “I myself will shepard my flock.” says the Lord. Your insight indicates your charism of the sacrament of Confirmation. Fear not Wisdom is with you.

  • Meri07

    I was one of his “followers” in that I used to enjoy his shows on EWTN and loved his sermons, and had even attended a conference once. I don’t think that makes me gullible or weak. However, I don’t like what I’m hearing from him now. And don’t think that I missed the fact that he said he didn’t know who she was and than all of a sudden he does and was suing her the whole time. Why not be honest in the first place! That really doesn’t sit well with me.

    I would feel like a complete ass but for the fact that he never did preach anything that was untrue about our Church, our Savior or our Blessed Mother. If anything he preached well about those topics and that is exactly what brought people to him. Apparently he is going through a huge personal and spiritual crisis. We should pray for him and hope that he turns himself around.

    I will say this, he did contribute much to Mother Church when he was doing well spiritually. For that I am grateful.


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