Thoughts on the Father Corapi Situation

Like many bloggers, I’ve been getting requests for information on the situation with Father John Corapi. I don’t know him personally, and I don’t have any insider information, so that leaves me in the same position as everyone else: trying to figure out the situation based on the information that is available.

I’ve looked at the official statements that have come out so far, which Pat Archbold has been helpfully linking and quoting, and I’ve been reading commentary on the subject on the blogosphere and around the Internet.

I thought I would comment briefly based on what I’ve been reading.

I’ve seen several people say that they hope that the allegations made against Father Corapi aren’t true. I most definitely understand this reaction. It is entirely natural, upon hearing of something horrible, to hope that the report is not true, or at least not as bad as what is being reported. When I hear of a disaster somewhere in the world, with the death toll estimated at whatever figure the media is naming, I pray that it is lower than that and that fewer people have been harmed. Hopefully someone did some bad math and the truth is not as awful as thought.

In the case of one person making a set of allegations against another person, the situation is somewhat more complex. So far as I can tell, the allegations may arise from one of four things (or a combination of these things):

1) The allegations are due to a misunderstanding or misperception.
2) The allegations are due to a delusion (i.e., mental illness).
3) The allegations are due to a lie.
4) The allegations are true.

According to Father Corapi:

On Ash Wednesday I learned that a former employee sent a three-page letter to several bishops accusing me of everything from drug addiction to multiple sexual exploits with her and several other adult women.

The language Father Corapi uses is somewhat ambiguous. “Everything from” could mean that there were additional, unmentioned charges or it could be hyperbole and the two actual charges were drug addiction and “multiple sexual exploits.” If there were other charges, these have not yet been revealed and so it is impossible to comment on them.

The charge of drug addiction is one that could potentially fall under category No. 1 above. I could envision, for example, a scenario in which Father Corapi (who has had significant medical problems) might be on painkillers or muscle relaxants or other prescription medications and, entirely innocently, someone might misperceive this as drug addiction when, in fact, it’s not.

The charge of “multiple sexual exploits with her and several other adult women,” however, does not seem to be a good candidate for this category. If Father Corapi had used different language, this might have been otherwise. If he had simply said “improprieties” then that would leave the door open to claims of sexual harassment, and sexual harassment is the kind of thing that can be the subject of misperception, misunderstanding, etc. It is quite possible for things to be said between coworkers that are meant to be playful or joking or even just complimentary that nevertheless end up being taken as sexual advances or even sexual intimidation. But to say that the employee has charged Father Corapi with “multiple sexual exploits” suggests something far more concrete and far less subject to misunderstanding.

If this is so then these allegations would seem to fall into categories 2, 3 or 4.

In that case, what does hoping that they are not true amount to? Seemingly, it would amount to hoping that either 2 or 3 is true. That is, hoping that the woman making the allegations is delusional or that she is lying.

If she is delusional, then she would seem to be quite delusional — and, in fact, gravely mentally ill — if she believes wrongly that Father Corapi has had sexual “exploits” with her when in fact he has not. Further, her delusion is even projected onto other women, with whom she also falsely believes Father Corapi to have had such exploits.

If she is lying, then she would be sinning, and sinning in a particularly grave way because she would be accusing an innocent person of grave sin with multiple exacerbating circumstances (he’s a priest, he’s very well known, it’s a sexual sin, he’s religious and thus has taken a vow of chastity — not just made a promise of celibacy — and the Church has been reeling from sexual scandals in recent years). If she’s lying, she’s telling an abominably horrible lie that is gravely, gravely sinful.

Of course, things are also appallingly horrible if No. 4 is the case and the accusations are true. In that case, there is a very well-known priest who has taken a vow of chastity who has violated that vow multiple times with multiple women — with an unknown degree of their cooperation, and in abuse of his sacred office — at a time when the Church has been reeling from sexual scandals.

This makes hoping that the allegations aren’t true a little trickier.

It would seem straightforward to say that category No. 2 (mental illness) would involve less evil than category 3 (lying) or category 4 (veracity). Category No. 2 involves a non-moral evil, while categories 3 and 4 both involve grave moral evils, and grave moral evil is by nature worse than non-moral evils. Still, even if the mental illness theory is true, wishing this to be so still involves wishing a grave evil on someone.

One also might argue that the lying theory would involve less evil than the theory that the allegations are true — that it’s worse for a priest to do these things than to falsely accuse him of doing so. This is certainly arguable, though it’s somewhat tricky and subject to counterargument. The Church has no well-worked-out theory of what grave sins are worse than others. Once things get into the mortal category, what is worse than what gets much iffier and subject to debate. In particular, a priest falsely accused of such things might be inclined to question the idea that 4 is automatically worse than 3 (i.e., is it worse to have actually done these things than to have a lie that they have been done bring down a reputation, a career and a ministry that has helped so many and could help so many more in the future if the lie had never been told?).

Even if one thinks that 4 is automatically worse than 3, wishing 4 false still involves wishing something else that is gravely evil to be the case.

So I find myself a little uncomfortable in light of these reflections.

The situations brings to mind a passage I read some years ago in a book about Judaism that described a strand in Jewish thought which held that, in knowledge that something horrible has occurred, one should not wish it on someone else based on self-interest. For example, according to this book, if a Jewish person were driving home and saw smoke ascending from his block in his neighborhood, he should not pray that it was someone else’s house that had burned down, rather than his own.

It’s certainly natural, in that situation, to want it not to be one’s own house that has burned down. That’s only human, and based on the divinely inbuilt instinct to have more care for our own selves and those close to us than those more distant.

Yet “Love your neighbor as yourself” provides a counterbalance to this that must also be taken into account.

I know that I as much as anyone had the initial impulse, “I hope this isn’t true,” when I read of the allegations against Father Corapi. Upon reflection and asking the question, “What would that really mean if they aren’t true?” I am less comfortable.

Regardless of how options 2, 3 and 4 should be ranked in terms of objective horribleness, I find myself squeamish wishing either grave mental illness or grave sin on another person.

For this reason, I find myself inclining more toward the prayer, “May the truth — whatever that is — be swiftly and accurately established so that justice for all the parties may be served.”

Perhaps Father Corapi himself had this in mind when writing the last line of his statement, where he said:

All of the allegations in the complaint are false, and I ask you to pray for all concerned.

What do you think?