Yesterday evening, on the Deacon’s Bench, the lovely and talented Deacon Greg Kandra announced that Fr. John Corapi’s company announced that Fr. John Corapi himself will soon announce something “very important.”
Fr. Corapi was placed on administrative leave in March — on Ash Wednesday, in fact — pending a canonical investigation tnto allegations of sexual misconduct with a former employee. The e-mail Greg quotes sounds distinctly hopeful; there’s every possibility Corap could be preparing to declare his own re-instatement.
But rather than speculate, I’d rather reflect on the Fr. Corapi phenomenon. When the story broke, I wasn’t blogging yet, but I’d already started writing my Patheos column, and that gave me somewhat of an entre into the popular bloggers’ worlds. As a fly on the wall at the Deacon’s Bench and the Anchoress, I saw quite plainly that Corapi’s was the story of the year. Neither one said exactly how many hits the story was good for — they’re not loan officers, for Pete’s sake — but Greg’s initial blog post was shared 444 times on Facebook; Elizabeth’s, 231 times. And neither figure includes the traffic to the numerous follow-up postings. Fr. Corapi’s story had legs — at least eight of ‘em, like those bulls the ancient Mesopotamians used to worship.
It’s obvious enough why. Sex sells. Conflict sells. The Corapi story amounts to a conflict involving sex — or at any rate, the question of whether sex took place. Conflicts about sex sell especially well. If that were not so, the Clinton-Lewiinsky farce would not have concluded with a Pulitzer Prize being handed to Maureen Dowd.
Or, if you prefer, consider how Representative Anthony Weiner’s pickup techniques have eclipsed all other news these past few weeks. Several days ago, a reader wrote me, with evidently mixed feelings, to say that my blog posts on the subject had stripped the word penis of all its power to shock. I replied, truthfully enough, that if anything else had been happening in the world, I was damned if I knew what it might have been.
But anyone reading Greg’s or Elizabeth’s combox will see right away that Corapi’s story involves a third, even more explosive ingredient. To those following the story, Corapi was more than just an individual priest; he represented the Church, capital C. His accuser was more than an individual layperson; she represented the World, capital W. However the drafters of Lumen Gentium might protest, the Corapi affair saw sex-based conflict and Catholic identity meet and dance off in a furious jitterbug.
This potent combination threw a number of people into a kind of intellectual paralysis. For many. It was simply inconceivable — in the Wallace Shawn sense of the word — that Corapi’s accuser was telling the truth. Not a few were above shooting the messengers. One accused Elizabeth of planting “seeds of doubt”; another, uninterested in journalistic convention, accused her of lese-majeste because she’d dropped his title after the first mention. To this small but vocal minority, it wasn’t enough to wait and see, as both Elizabeth and Greg counseled; as Fr. Corapi went, so went the Church. The observer was either with them or against them.
Since then, a few people complained about celebrity priests, but I’ve always found that a little too sweeping, or at any rate, misdirected. Charisma is a charism. The Church has always had her superstars. For every gutter-dweller like Coughlin or Maciel, she can point to a hundred gems. Blessed Pope John Paul II was a superstar; so, in a very different way, was Bl. Theresa of Calcutta. Some of St. Francis’ followers showed such singleminded devotion to his rule that they drifted into heresy. And St. Therese? If she came back to earth, just for a day, she’d have to shake so many hands, mug for so many photographs, and sign so many copies of Story of a Soul that she’d reckon the experience a crueler martyrdom than the death in Vietnam she’d always dreamed of.
No, it’s wrong to hate the playa. The fans? Those I sometimes wonder about.
This weekend, Fr. Corapi’s admirers may well find their champion — and themselves — vindicated. I hope they do. When and if that happens, I hope they’ll return their attention to March, when some of them spoke so intemperately, and be good enough to ask themselves whether it was all worth it.
Deacon Greg has closed the comments on his most recent Corapi update. I believe I’ll follow his example. I may be a glutton, but not for punishment.