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.

"Taking the High Road," Take One: Bill Keller
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