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New Information on the Fr. Corapi Situation

BY Jimmy Akin

| Posted 6/20/11 at 4:24 PM

 

Since Fr. John Corapi released his bombshell statement Friday, in which he announced that he was leaving the priesthood, several pieces of new information have emerged that shed light on the situation.

Before we get to those, though, I would like to again call attention to the written statement on his new web site and the narrated version available on YouTube. These present Fr. Corapi’s own explanation of the current situation and provide a valuable source of information regarding it.

I would also point out something that may not be obvious if you are exposed to just one of the two sources: Though the wording is the same in both (except for very slight differences), they are significantly different in tone. In particular, the modulations of Fr. Corapi’s voice convey a tone of reasonableness not conveyed by the words of the printed edition. If you’ve read only the latter, be sure and listen to the former, because it contains important tonal information not captured in the written version.

At the same time, the substance of the two is the same, and the facts are not altered: Fr. Corapi has chosen of his own volition to abandon his priestly ministry rather than wait for the outcome of the investigation of the charges against him.

At this point, allow me to issue . . .

THE BIG RED DISCLAIMER: I do not claim to know whether Fr. Corapi is innocent or guilty. I have no way of assessing that. I pointed this out several times in my previous post, but I got quite a few messages accusing me of “judging” Fr. Corapi and assuming him guilty before the facts are in, etc. None of that is true. I understand that his fans are hurting from recent events, and I fully understand that, so let me once again stress—this time in more emphatic form—that I do not know whether he is innocent or guilty. I am trying to offer perspective on the facts as they are known at this time.

Now, let’s get to the new information about his situation.

 

The Black-Sheep Dog (tm)

I’ve received several communications by email pointing to the fact that Fr. Corapi’s business—Santa Cruz Media of Kalispell, Montana—applied for a federal trademark on the name “The Black-Sheep Dog” over a year ago. The filing was made April 8, 2010, long before the current situation developed.

The filing was made with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and you can read a summary of it here.

The trademark application was granted (specifically, the “notice of allowance” was issued) last month—on May 10, 2011—after Fr. Corapi had stepped aside from active ministry while the investigation of the charges proceeded.

In his announcement last Friday he indicated that his autobiography, “The Black Sheep Dog,” will soon be published. This fits with the description offered in the trademark application, which says that under this mark will be offered:

Printed material, namely, a series of autobiographical nonfiction books in the field of religion and spirituality

So there may be more than one autobiographical book in the planning.

What does this tell us about the current situation?

A primary thing it tells us is that the autobiography, and its name, have been in the planning stages for over a year. It would thus appear that they were not created, and were not originally intended to be launched, during the current environment.

That has implications for how one reads the name “The Black Sheep Dog.” Based on Fr. Corapi’s announcement, which did not indicate that this had been registered over a year ago, one might conclude that it has specific reference to the current situation, which would make it quite disturbing. As I pointed out in my previous post, it would appear to be both an embracing of a “black sheep” identity in conjunction with Fr. Corapi’s abandonment of his priesthood while also seeking to maintain a pastoral “sheep dog” function despite that abandonment.

The visuals used in the YouTube video, which features a closeup of a frightening-looking black dog’s eyes, one of which contains alarmed looking sheep, feeds the disturbing interpretation of the name.

It should be pointed out that the frightening-looking dog’s other eye contains an image of wolves, but as Deacon Greg Kandra points out:

I gotta say: the imagery used on that tape was creepy to the point of being diabolical.

When one realizes that the whole thing had been in the planning stages for over a year, though, a different light is cast on the subject, and however creepy one might find the imagery and the name in the current circumstances, it was not intended to be taken in that way.

This does not lessen the disturbing nature of Fr. Corapi’s abandonment of his priesthood, however.

 

“The investigation was compromised because of the pressure on the witnesses.”

Another important set of facts was unearthed by the National Catholic Register’s senior editor, Joan Frawley Desmond. In her piece on the subject, several important pieces of information were disclosed by Fr. Corapi’s religious superior, Fr. Gerard Sheehan, SOLT. Among them:

Father Gerard Sheehan, regional priest-servant of SOLT and Father Corapi’s religious superior in the U.S., confirmed June 19 that the order’s investigation faced complications created by a civil suit filed by Father Corapi against the former employee who had accused him of sexual misconduct.

“When she left the company, she signed a contract that she would not reveal anything that happened to her while she was at Santa Cruz Media. Father Corapi paid her for this. Father was suing her for a breach of contract,” said Father Sheehan, though he did not specify why Father Corapi had initiated the non-disclosure agreement.

The civil suit against the former employee created a problem for SOLT investigators.

“In canon law, there can’t be any pressure on witnesses; they have to be completely free to speak. The investigation was compromised because of the pressure on the witnesses. There were other witnesses that also had signed non-disclosure agreements,” said Father Sheehan.

“The canon lawyers were in a difficult situation, and Father does have his civil rights and he decided to follow his legal counsel, which he had a right to do,” he said. “We tried to continue the investigation without speaking to the principal witnesses.”

The investigation was halted after Father Corapi “sent us a letter resigning from active ministry and religious life. I have written him a letter asking him to confirm that decision. If so, we will help him with this process of leaving religious life,” said Father Sheehan.

He expressed disappointment that Father Corapi chose not to remain in SOLT and to refuse the order’s invitation for him to live in community, leaving his Montana home. Father Sheehan said he had tried to arrange a meeting with Father Corapi before any final decision was announced, but had not heard back from him. Father Sheehan said that SOLT would issue a statement shortly.

“We wanted him to come back to the community, and that would have meant leaving everything he has. It would have been a drastic change for him,” Father Sheehan said.

The article also recalled:

In a previous interview with the Register, published after Father Corapi’s suspension, Father Sheehan implicitly acknowledged that the accused priest was not living in conformity with SOLT’s constitution, approved in 1994.

“The founder’s arrangement with Father Corapi was established before that time, when Father Flanagan believed that every mission should take care of its own needs,” noted Father Sheehan at that time. “Now, according to our constitution, a different way of life has been established for members. All the money we make is turned over to the society, which gives us an allowance.”

During that interview, Father Sheehan confirmed that SOLT had “begun to address the issues of members who joined the society before the new constitution. The society is moving to a more organized structural phase of its existence, with all the Church discipline that entails.”

There are several notable things here. Among them are the non-disclosure agreements that Fr. Corapi required (and paid) at least some of those working with him to sign.

What was the reason for this?

I have more than two decades of experience working for religious non-profit organizations, and I can think of three reasons why a non-disclosure agreement of some sort might be sought: (1) to protect customer information, (2) to protect donor information, (3) to protect ideas for products or services that another organization might copy.

I cannot think of a legitimate reason why a non-disclosure agreement covering everything that happened to one during a term of employment would be required. Nor can I think of a reason why a non-disclosure agreement would need to be framed so broadly that it would prevent one from offering testimony to an ecclesiastical investigation regarding whether one had slept with multiple women or engaged in repeated drug use (i.e., the charges against Fr. Corapi).

And so I would be interested to know why Fr. Corapi sought—and apparently paid for—such broadly-framed non-disclosure agreements with several of the witnesses that his superiors sought to interview as part of the investigation.

There could have been an entirely legitimate reason for this—but I cannot think of it off the top of my head. I am thus left at a loss, trying to imagine what such a reason might be.

 

The Sequence of Events

Whatever the reason for the non-disclosure agreements may be, we may surmise the following as an approximate timeline of the events in question (individual elements might need to be rearranged):

1. Based on an agreement with the founder of his order, Fr. Corapi established a Montana-based media business under his financial control.

2. At some point, Fr. Corapi pays several persons who have business dealings with him to sign non-disclosure agreements regarding events during their term of employment.

3. There is a falling-out with one non-disclosure signer, an employee (presumably 2 occurred before 3, though this is not absolute).

4. The disgruntled signer from 3 complained to religious or ecclesiastical superiors (specifically: the current bishop of Corpus Christi), alleging sexual and drug-related charges against Fr. Corapi.

5. The current bishop of Corpus Christi contacted Fr. Corapi’s religious superiors, requesting an investigation.

6. The investigation was begun.

7. Fr. Corapi filed a civil suit against the complainer from 3, alleging breach of the non-disclosure contract.

8. Other witnesses refused to testify in view of the civil lawsuit against the complainer from 3.

9. Deprived of ready access to these witnesses, Fr. Corapi’s superiors decided to continue the investigation without the key witnesses, using other, less-central witnesses.

10. Rather than allow the investigation to reach its conclusion, Fr. Corapi decided to abandon the priesthood and religious life, sending a letter to his superiors to this effect.

11. His superiors sought to reintegrate him into the life of his religious community, but he has not responded to this request as it “would have meant leaving everything he has. It would have been a drastic change for him,” because “The society is moving to a more organized structural phase of its existence, with all the Church discipline that entails.”

12. Rather than embrace this new situation, Fr. Corapi announced his abandonment of the priesthood and the adoption of the name “The Black Sheep Dog.”

REMINDER: I do not claim to know whether Fr. Corapi is innocent or guilty of some or all of the charges against him.

But the sequence of events described above, even if elements here or there are re-arranged, does not look good (especially since numbers 2, 7, and 10 might be construed as efforts to prevent such an investigation or stop it from reaching a conclusion).

 

The Bottom-Line

Regardless of what the truth of the above matters may be—and assuming the innocence of Fr. Corapi—there still remains his public abandonment of the priesthood.

This is, for me, the ultimate point.

All the rest are mere incidentals.

I do not understand how so quickly, after only three months, a man such as Fr. Corapi—a man who was ordained by the hands of Bl. John Paul II, a man who had put in almost 20 years of service as a priest, a man who had been supernaturally conformed to Christ so as to serve in persona Christi, a man who had been empowered to turn bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord, a man who was empowered to forgive sins and thus directly save souls from hell—could turn his back on all that without exhausting the avenues of canonical recourse available to him.

Yes, he had been sidelined at least temporarily by his superiors.

Yes, he had had to endure a process that could stand improvement (like all human processes).

Yes, he had a right to be frustrated—if he was innocent, as we may hope in charity.

But how could he walk away from this great boon that had been bestowed upon him?

How could he turn his back on all that and request removal from the priestly and religious life, after only three months of sitting on the sidelines?

Did past saints who were falsely accused do that?

Did Our Lord himself walk away from his commission from the Father when falsely accused?

Even if he felt compelled to “compromise” (in his superior’s words) the investigation with civil law suits against potential witnesses against him, couldn’t he have waited until the investigation was completed with less central witnesses who had not signed non-disclosure agreements with him?

Why did he abandon his priesthood after only three months waiting for the result of an investigation whose processes he himself had intervened to slow?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I am left deeply disturbed and disappointed with the situation.

May all of us keep Fr. Corapi, his accusers, and everyone who has been affected by this situation in prayer.

What are your thoughts?