Corapi and Fightin’ Words

“It’s not a fight, honey. It’s a disagreement.”

Have you ever spoken thus to your kid when she caught you and your spouse circling each other with butcher knives? If so, you should consider drafting official statements for the Church. When it comes to conflict resolution, no one’s jargon is gummier or windier. Pope Benedict didn’t sack Marcial Maciel; he invited him to a life or prayer and penitence. Superiors don’t order their subordinates to shape up or ship out; nor do subordinates tell their superiors to take this job and shove it; instead, both express a wish to engage in dialogue. When the Vatican sends the Bobs to Initech, it announces an Apostolic Visitation.

Euphemistic language serves a practical purpose: it shows everyone in the best possible light. Those above seem benevolent; those below, principled. Rivalries and grudges have no official existence. Nobody acts from spite or pique. As long as everybody plays along, we, the faithful, can convince ourselves that things are basically okay, that we can rely on the Church, if not always to be sensible, then at least to be good. As any commentator who praised the Blessed John Paul II’s personal sanctity while recognizing the hit-or-miss quality of his managerial style will tell you, there is a difference.

Yesterday, Fr. Gerard Sheehan, regional priest-servant for the Society of Our Lady of the Trinity, broke the line ever so slightly. Issuing a statement on his societ’s investigation into the alleged misdeeds of SOLT member Fr. John Corapi, he leaves the reader in no doubt that he rates Corapi somewhere between scurvy and Hepatitis C:

SOLT’s fact-finding team subsequently learned that Fr. Corapi may have negotiated contracts with other key witnesses that precluded them from speaking with SOLT’s fact-finding team. Many of these witnesses likely had key information about the accusations being investigated and declined to answer questions and provide documents.

When the fact-finding team asked Fr. Corapi to dismiss the lawsuit, to forbear from foreclosing his mortgage, and to release her and other individuals from their contractual obligations to remain silent about him, he refused to do so and, through his canonical advocate, stated: “It is not possible for Father Corapi to answer the Commission’s questions at this time.”

SOLT’s fact-finding team has acquired information from Fr. Corapi’s e-mails, various witnesses, and public sources that, together, state that, during his years of public ministry:

He did have sexual relations and years of cohabitation (in California and Montana) with a woman known to him, when the relationship began, as a prostitute; He repeatedly abused alcohol and drugs; He has recently engaged in sexting activity with one or more women in Montana; He holds legal title to over $1 million in real estate, numerous luxury vehicles, motorcycles, an ATV, a boat dock, and several motor boats, which is a serious violation of his promise of poverty as a perpetually professed member of the Society.

SOLT has contemporaneously with the issuance of this press release directed Fr. John Corapi, under obedience, to return home to the Society’s regional office and take up residence there. It has also ordered him, again under obedience, to dismiss the lawsuit he has filed against his accuser.

Note that Sheehan uses only as much jargon as decorum requires. Corapi didn’t abuse substances; he abused drugs and alcohol. He didn’t have inappropriate relations; he had sexual relations. Sheehan didn’t invite him to live in community with other SOLT members; he directed him, under obedience. The effect is no less jarring or damning than it would have been had he called Corapi a cad, a cur or a mountebank. In fact, Sheehan deserves a special edginess award for using the term sexting, which has only been in circulation for a few years. Yes, he surrounds it with scare quotes, but then, he’s writing for some pretty straitlaced readers.

I have to say, I like it — a lot. Sheehan’s statement leaves the imagination only as much as it deserves. There’s still room to wonder which drugs Corapi abused, how much booze he could put away, and in what context these sexual relations took place — were they full-blown love affairs, or simple hookups? Hopefully, Bob Woodward will get on that one of these days. For my part, I know all I need to know, namely, Corapi was a wrong’un, and Sheehan’s not the kind of guy to polish his halo while people trash him in public. Also, given Corapi’s eagerness to sue, Sheehan’s plain talk enhances his credibility. He wouldn’t make these explicit charges unless he was able — and ready — to back them up.

Some people might prefer a little bit of ambiguity. To them, I can only say that the more plainly the truth is stated, the more it looks like truth, and the less it looks like truthiness. A determined lunatic can see a conspiracy anywhere, but even the average person can spot one in a fog.

The same principle applies to the exercise of power. What happens in camera and stays in camera usually smells fishy, even when it shouldn’t. Take Pope Benedict’s recent and abrupt removal of William Morris, Toowoomba, Australia’s bishop. The facts as we know them don’t quite add up. In 2006, Morris issued a pastoral letter vaguely endorsing the ordination of women and married men in order to plug the gaps in the clergy’s ranks; five years later, he was gone.

Morris has claimed to be the target of a “latter-day inquisition.” Okay, that‘s one side of the story. I want to know the rest. Five years offers room for a lot of back-and-forth. If Morris said anything scornful or defiant — if he was guilty of “contempt of cop,” as critics said of Professor Henry Louis Gates — I want to know. Knowing might swing my sympathies toward Rome. This is probably bad ecclesiology, but I wouldn’t take kindly to being told, “Tie this kangaroo down, sport.”

As I understand it, the Vatican is preparing a report on its investigation of Morris. Hopefully, it’ll take on Fr. Sheehan as a ghostwriter.

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  • momor

    I concur with the points you make about telling just enough truth. I have seen too many scandals happen in the course of jobs when apparently good people are suddenly let go without explanation and everyone is left wondering why. The rumor mill in those cases can be more damaging for both employee and employer than a little truth.

    Boy, can you turn a phrase….”he leaves the reader in no doubt that he rates Corapi somewhere between scurvy and Hepatitis C:”

  • DW

    Well, I applaud hearing it first from Fr. Gerard Sheehan. I can only respect SOLT, having a horrific scandal land in their lap and stepping up to the plate, and hitting a homerun by simply stating the truth in a forthright manner and not allowing John Corapi to get away with despicable behavior and scandal. And attempting to save his soul at the same time. That’s true heroic virtue, in my humble opinion.

    One question: can the Catholic Church confisgate John Corapi’s property since he acquired all of the wealth and sin under the guise of a priest operating for the Catholic Church? They should!

    Sadly, while praying the July Most Precious Blood Devotion, this appeal from Jesus kept directing my mind to John Corapi. It is the Anguished appeals from Jesus: the Fourth Appeal and fits perfectly in this situation:

    My son, is this how you betray your Master and Savior? Only because of worldly money (among other things) which perishes in this earthly life that you choose to betray your Master and “hand him over” to the cruel men who crucify Me. Son, you are making yourself the Judas of the last age. For how terrible it will be for those who betray the Son of God, who “hand Him over” to sinful men to be crucified. See how they regrettably pass into eternity and suffer eternally. Even among the priests of my heart, there are many Judases who choose worldly possessions in exchange for their Master Who is in agony…..I am the Agonizing Jesus Christ Who loves you, appealing to you to RETURN.

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  • Art Kelly

    Father Sheehan has my admiration and thanks for not “pulling any punches” in revealing all the facts about John Corapi.

  • Tom

    And have no doubt–this was a huge step for SOLT to take. It opens them up to a mega lawsuit from (the former) Fr. Corapi. Not many dioceses or religious orders would have told the truth to bluntly and fully because of that fear.

    To me, this makes it case closed as to Corapi’s guilt.

  • jkm

    To be fair, Fr Sheehan attempted the “It’s just a disagreement, honey” tone in a couple of earlier messages. It just gave the kids more room to dodge the butcher knives. “FJC is NOT being disobedient to his superiors,” they insisted. “He was only invited, not ordered, to come back.” Enough of that and it’s directed-him-under-obedience Ginzus on the table.

    Nicely done, as usual. But I will not forgive you for putting that damn kangaroo song in my head on my way to Adoration.

  • R. Jackson

    Good article. On Morris’s claim of being a victim of an inquisition, in its true form there is nothing wrong with the Inquisition. It is a normal Church institution with a good and purposeful function. The historical problem was just that, an out of control event, mostly in Spain, at a particular barbaric time.

  • Kate

    Diplomats have always had a range of language available to use in expressing subtle differences. That’s a good thing. People can decode the messages, there’s lots of room for either escalating or backing down as necessary, fewer bridges burned, and if you do ultimately have to take off the diplomatic gloves, the final, frank wording is all the more effective by contrast and by virtue of rare usage. I think the meaning of “invitation” in the earlier message was pretty clear to anyone who has paid attention to news reports of modern diplomacy. And the stark “obedience” of the latest message comes down like thunder, as well it should.

  • Sophia

    Thank you, Max!

    Fr. Sheehan should should be a good example to the majority of Catholic bishops in thins country. Seems he knew what were his own responsibilities as Fr. Carapi’s superior and had the courage take responsibility in a fair and honest way…namely, taking a serious look into the alligations against Fr. Corapi, determining what was true and what was not based on the evidence, and making a honest no-nonsence statement on the situation…no politics, no “good ol’ boys” kind of stuff, no “I’m OK – You’re OK” fluff, no “dialogue” as a “we want to look like good guys” smokescreen; just an honest, responsible, and active interest in the truth of the situation and then openly and honestly stating what was found to be true. (Oh, and I might add: no “Dallas [Corpus Christi] Charter” to make it appear as though the problem is being address.) It’s not that complicated really and I wish the bishops and other “functionaries” in the Church would get a clue!

    Flannery O’Connor said: the biggest problem with the Catholic Church is Catholics! And that when it comes to the Catholic Bishops the Church’s motto seems to be “The Wrong Man for the Job”. She was one who spoke her mind and spoke from experience. The truth tends to be a lot more simple than the many ways that can be found to evade and hide it!

    Again, thanks for this piece!


  • Sophia

    Whoops…I meant to conclude by saying that in Fr. Sheehan’s case, I think he was The Right Man for the Job! Bravo!!!

  • DW

    Anyone who has intently listened to Corapi’s sermons over any given period of time knows exactly who one of the primary adult consentual sexual relationships is. From the beginning of his very public preaching, from the material wealth Corapi has amassed for himself by distributing all this very self-damning “intellectual property” evidence against himself, as CEO of his own company, in his own public sermons. He always found a way to work her into the dialogue of his sermons. Whether it was in the worldwide distribution of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or the early Easter Triduum collection or the Mortal Combat Series in Michigan, to ironically the most recent self-incriminating “Surrender is Not An Option” series in Boston, where he flippantly and openly boasted as to what he got away with. “In plain English”, as Corapi says. It really was all about her from the beginning if you listen again to what he is really saying, masked behind that thundering voice.

    Wearing and falsifying the priest collar and religious order attire to “dive headfirst into hell” as Corapi states is also exactly correct. He also states, “”You don’t make it to heaven alone and you don’t go to hell alone, either.” This has always been about him . . . and about her.

    Corapi cannot continue to keep threatening everything around him to keep them from speaking the truth. He has no legal (or moral) basis for suing anyone for defamation. Especially not now. Truth always prevails. Out of his own public boasting, he has condemned only himself and can only look to himself for any wrongdoing.
    Lastly, his own words: “Heaven or Hell. Period.”

    “By their fruits [deeds], you shall know them.”

  • DW

    Corpai does not get to have it both ways. The right to publicly amass a personal fortune using the priest collar and the Catholic Church & SOLT to do it, grievously scandalize the Church for twenty years, break his priestly vows of obedience, poverty, chastity, then when exposed in the same public scandal, weakly feign his “legal rights” have been denied, walk away from the priesthood, and then hide like a coward and continue on like he did nothing wrong. His accountabilty should be made as public and forthright as the twenty year abuse and mockery that his priesthood was. Let the punishment fit the crime. I am so outraged by his demeanor, his cowardice, his lies, his deceit, and the evil and damage he has publicly committed against the Catholic Church for twenty years! Time is up! Corpai, if you do the crime, you do the time. Quit hiding and come out and take your punishment like a man and accept your deserved punishment. You already excommunicated yourself by your own actions. You owe twenty years public restitution and penance and I hope the Catholic Church makes an example out of you.

  • Matt Emerson

    “When the Vatican sends the Bobs to Initech . . .”

    It pains me to think some readers might not get this.

    For a man like myself who spent many a college night with good friends reciting lines from this “Casablanca” of comedy, this gem in your post was borderline perfection.

    Well done.

  • Regina

    Thomas Merton is looking better and better at this

  • Nancy B.

    You certainly know how to write. The “Bobs to Initech” line is brilliant.

  • EGD

    If Fr. Corapi went back to the SOLT, should they be sued as well? Think about it. If these allegations of wrongdoing were going on for so long as they claim then why didn’t the SOLT do anything about it? If he was not living a life of poverty the SOLT should have taken action years earlier and not waited for complaints of sexual misconduct. My perception of Fr. Corapi before this scandal was that he was always travelling and preaching. He was always in the public eye and I don’t see when he had time for “years of cohabitation”.

  • Geoffrey

    Somebody needs a hug.

  • Geoffrey

    Somebody needs a hug.

  • Anonymous

    That isn’t really what Bishop William Morris said. He said something must be done to fill the gaps as current priests in his area age and retire. He then went on to list the possibilities, including utilizing women and married men already living in the diocese, having some ecumenical services with some protestant congregations and bringing in missionary priests from Africa or South Asia. He stated clearly that he would implement whatever directives came from his superiors without complaint or personal prejudice.

    At no point did he voice his own opinion or endorse a specific plan of action.

    Some criticize Morris for the lack of new priestly vocations in Toowoomba. I think it’s hardly his fault. It is a problem many areas are facing, as laity still active in Church life are aging and becoming fewer.

    If fewer young people are participating in Church life, it’s probably because the reactionary stands that the Church maintains on many social and contemporary lifestyle issues, conflict with the way that the majority live their lives. I suggest that the number one reason that priestly vocations have fallen off so drastically in the last two decades is because most Gay men can now look forward to living actively sexual lives out in the open and no longer have to seek refuge in a Catholic priesthood that traditionally has been a refuge for SSA men.