Print Edition: March 8, 2015
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BY Jimmy Akin
Fr. John Corapi has published a statement—also available in video form—in which he has announced that he is leaving active ministry as a priest.
He is. And he has.
Unless something extraordinarily improbable occurs, he will never again function as a Catholic priest.
And it’s his decision.
I’m quite sympathetic to innocently accused priests and the need to have better safeguards to protect them. I think there is room for potential criticism of how the Church has formulated its policy, or how it applies that policy in particular cases.
I also do not know whether he is guilty of the sexual and other misconduct of which he is accused. I have no way of determining that.
Frankly, from what is known of the situation, the entire thing sounds weird, and it did from the beginning. What was known about the accuser’s actions sounded weird (although that could have been due to imperfect representation of the facts), and Fr. Corapi’s public reaction was weird. This made if hard to judge where potential misdoing might lie. It could have been with either party—or both.
But at this point it doesn’t really matter which one was at fault or whether both were, because Fr. Corapi has taken it upon himself to end the matter by publicly abandoning his priesthood.
If his statement is any guide, this was not forced upon him. This was something he freely chose.
In fact, he may have chosen it some time ago, since his statement says that his autobiography, titled “The Black SheepDog,” will be published soon. If he began working on this project while he has been on hiatus then he may have chosen to leave the priesthood—or been preparing to voluntarily leave it as a contingency plan—for some time.
The name of the book is also worthy of attention: “The Black SheepDog.” This is a portmanteau of “the black sheep” and “sheep dog.”
“Black sheep” is obviously a common English idiom for a member of a group (typically a family) who either has fallen from grace or who is regarded by members of the group as having fallen from grace. That fits Fr. Corapi’s status given the sexual misconduct allegations against him.
What’s startling is that he would identify with this label and make it his own. It’s embracing an “on the run” identity that signals separation from and disobedience to the ecclesiastical authorities.
After all, not every person accused of sexual misconduct would embrace such a label. Many would say, “I’m innocent! I’m a white sheep, and I look forward to vindicating myself against the charges that have been falsely lodged against me!”
So the embrace of the “black sheep” label is itself disturbing . . . and unusual . . . a symbol of a “rebel” or “renegade” mindset.
Then there’s the “sheep dog” part. And this is really disturbing. Even moreso than the former.
The job of a sheep dog, of course, is to herd sheep—to keep them from straying from the fold, to make them go where the shepherd wants, and keep them safe from danger.
Those are obviously pastoral functions—in the proper sense. A pastor (Latin, “shepherd”) employs sheep dogs to help him protect and guide the sheep and maintain the integrity of the flock.
By embracing the image of a sheep dog, Fr. Corapi thus announces his intention—despite his public abandonment of the priesthood—to continue in some form of pastoral ministry. It may not be priestly—he may not be celebrating the sacraments—but he still sees himself as involved in pastoral work.
But consider the snarling tone in which he writes about his relationship with bishops. Most significantly, consider this statement:
Please don’t bother the bishop or complain because it will do no good and it wastes valuable time and energy, both his and yours.
It is hard to read this as anything but a statement that Fr. Corapi plans to ignore ecclesiastical supervision of any kind and continue his pastoral, “sheep dog” ministry with respect to the sheep of Christ’s flock, even if Christ’s duly-appointed shepherds do not want him trying to manage their flocks.
The picture painted by his statement is thus of a sheep dog out of control—one who has turned on the shepherds of the flock and decided that he, not they, knows what is best for them and is willing to defy the shepherds to their faces.
And then there’s the weird aspect of the name.
“The Black SheepDog”?
Whatever name he may choose for himself, Fr. Corapi has forever ruined any chances he had of functioning as a Catholic priest.
And it didn’t have to be that way.
He could have done the sensible thing and waited.
If he faced setbacks, he could have taken the avenues of canonical recourse open to him, which included multiple potential appeals to Rome.
I am not in any way unsympathetic to falsely accused priests or priests who feel that there need to be more stringent safeguards against false accusations. In fact, if Fr. Corapi were innocent (as he may be) then he could have chosen to make himself a test case to get better safeguards enacted.
But Fr. Corapi—or “the Black SheepDog”—or whatever he wants to be called—chose not to stand firm in the face of what he claimed were false allegations.
Instead, he chose to defy authority and strike off on his own as a “sheep dog” protecting the flock whose leaders he is defying.
Unless something very improbable happens, he has thus abandoned his priesthood in a way that will from here on out prevent him from serving as a Catholic priest.
I wish things had gone better.
Fr. Corapi has “lost it.”
And by “it” I mean any likely chance of working as a priest again.
It doesn’t matter if the charges against him were false. By refusing to cooperate with the Church’s process, and by announcing his intention to speak in defiance of that authority, he has rejected any chance of resolving the charges against him and returning to priestly ministry.
This is sad, and we should all pray.
What do you think?
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