Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company in New York.
Update: Please see these important updates on the Fr. Corapi situation at the bottom of this post.
Father Corapi, the dynamic and well known evangelist, broke the news on his own website this weekend that he has been placed on ‘administrative leave’ following wide ranging accusations of misconduct by a former employee. Fr. Corapi is adamant that the accusations are baseless and he decries the de facto policy that now finds accused priests guilty until proven innocent so as to avoid further embarrassment as he puts it, “just in case.”
There seems to no longer be the need for a complaint to be deemed “credible” in order for Church authorities to pull the trigger on the Church’s procedure, which was in recent years crafted to respond to cases of the sexual abuse of minors. I am not accused of that, but it seems, once again, that they now don’t have to deem the complaint to be credible or not, and it is being applied broadly to respond to all complaints. I have been placed on “administrative leave” as the result of this.
I’ll certainly cooperate with the process, but personally believe that it is seriously flawed, and is tantamount to treating the priest as guilty “just in case”, then through the process determining if he is innocent. The resultant damage to the accused is immediate, irreparable, and serious, especially for someone like myself, since I am so well known. I am not alone in this assessment, as multiple canon lawyers and civil and criminal attorneys have stated publicly that the procedure does grave damage to the accused from the outset, regardless of rhetoric denying this, and has little regard for any form of meaningful due process.
I am certainly not in any position to judge the facts in this particular case, but I must believe Fr. Corapi is innocent until proven otherwise. Beyond that, all I have is my gut feeling and my hope, both of which tend toward innocence. Time will tell. I’ve been wrong before.
But beyond the particulars of his own case, Fr. Corapi takes issue with the process, a process which seemingly holds the accused guilty until proven innocent. The truth is that someone of the prominence of Fr. Corapi may never recover his reputation, even though he be as pure as the driven snow, forever stuck in scandal limbo.
It would seem that the destruction of reputations, even of the innocent, is the inevitable consequence of a zero-tolerance policy administered by those seeking to avoid embarrassment. In the past, accusations would be ignored to avoid embarrassment, destroying lives. The flip side is that acting on any and all such accusations without meaningful due process will destroy lives, too.
This topic hits home for me. As someone who was once accused of all kinds of baseless and crazy things in a wrongful termination suit, I know how it feels to be falsely accused. It is frustrating, saddening, infuriating and much more. But the one emotion I retain from that horrible experience is gratitude. My employer, also implicated in the suit, stuck by me and defended me until it was eventually dropped. Wrongfully accused priests no longer have this luxury.
A zero-tolerance policy without due process that de facto impugns the reputations of the accused is immoral. The Church has a duty to protect the innocent, even if the innocent is a priest. Of course, the Church has a moral duty to make sure that the scandal of abuse and coverup is never repeated, but it cannot willfully sacrifice the reputations of the innocent as indemnification. The end does not justify the means. I do not know that any of this applies to the Father Corapi case, but we have seen this happen in other cases too, and it is wrong.
We all know the devil hates priests, but I bet he doesn’t hate this policy. If all one has to do to destroy the reputation of a good priest is accuse, knowing that the Church will do the rest, the priesthood doesn’t stand a chance.
In this particular case, I pray for the accuser as well as the accused. I remain hopeful that the truth will clear Father if all he says is true. Either way, the Church has to fix this process. We owe it to our priests.
Note: Elizabeth Scalia has an excellent roundup of what we know and what we don’t know about the Father Corapi Story.
Father Longenecker also warns about the problem of Priests and Pedestals.
Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity
18 March 2011
Today, as Regional Priest Servant for the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, I have the unhappy responsibility to announce that Father John Corapi, SOLT has been placed on administrative leave from priestly ministry, in accordance to the Code of Cannon Law of the Catholic Church. We have received an allegation that Father Corapi has behaved in a manner unbecoming of a priest and are duty-bound to conduct an investigation in this accusation.
It is important to keep in mind that this action in no way implies Father Corapi is guilty of the allegation. It is equally important to know that, based on the information we have received thus far, the claim of misconduct does not involve minors and does not arise to the of criminal conduct. Consequently, this matter will be investigated internally, and unless and until information suggests otherwise it will not be referred to civil authorities. In the event that we learn of any occasion where the criminal civil law may have been breached, we will immediately refer the matter to civil authorities.
“It is important to accord Father Corapi the principles of due process, including the assumption of innocence, until a full investigation is carried out by his superiors. More importantly, I appeal for prayers on behalf of everyone involved in this very complex situation.” Father Corapi has a personal residence in Kalispell, Mont. He does not hold priestly faculties in the Diocese of Helena, said Diocese of Helena Chancellor Father John Robertson.