Saturday, March 26, 2011

Corapi Again: Father Corapi Releases New Statement on His Website, Attacks Dallas Charter

I had decided not to blog any further about the story of Father John Corapi, about which I posted several days ago (and here and here).  That is, I had decided not to blog any further about this story until substantial new information came along.  Continuing to pursue and parse this story in the absence of new information only deepens the implication that there's really something there about which to blog.  And if Corapi is correct in maintaining that he is innocent of the charges made against him, then deepening the implication that smoke points to fire is not fair to him.

But then this happened, and to anyone following this unfolding story, it's an important development, and demands attention.  As with the initial statement about his suspension due to allegations of sexual liaisons with several women employees and drug abuse, Fr. Corapi himself has put the announcement I'll discuss in a moment on his website, and has apparently assured its wide dissemination throughout the Catholic blogsphere.

Yesterday, Corapi placed on his website a statement by Bobbi Ruffatto, vice-president for operations of Santa Cruz Media, the corporation that owns his intellectual property and sells his DVDs, CDs, and books.  And here's what Ruffatto is saying: the charges made against Corapi are "false allegations," an "unsubstantiated rant" by a former employee who lost her job and is out to "destroy" Corapi.  

Ruffatto's statement defending Fr. Corapi makes other extremely interesting claims.  It maintains that Santa Cruz is a "secular corporation" "not affiliated with the Catholic Church in any way," and yet it goes on to launch into a theological defense of Corapi which notes that he was placed on administrative leave on Ash Wednesday, that the glory of the risen Lord will no doubt shine into this situation and vindicate Corapi by Easter, that Corapi is a great servant of the church and is for that reason hated by the devil, etc.  It's hard to see how this analysis substantiates Ruffatto's claim that she (I think Bobbi Ruffatto is a she, though I may be wrong in concluding that) is working for a secular corporation not affiliated with the Catholic church in any way.

And then there's this: Ruffatto says that "we" have consulted several canon lawyers, who say that the actions of the Bishop of Corpus Christi vis-a-vis Corapi are, on several points of canon law, "illicit."  And she says--astonishingly--"It is our fervent hope that The Dallas Charter will be changed because of false accusations like this."  That is, Ruffatto's "secular corporation" that is "not affiliated with the Catholic Church in any way" wants to advise the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to abolish the zero-tolerance policy that Corapi himself has previously questioned, because, they maintain, Corapi has been removed from ministry due to unsubstantiated allegations.

Ruffatto also says--again, astonishingly--"The Church provides no financial support to Fr. Corapi. He has to pay for his own legal representation, medical costs, food, housing, etc."  And this leads into a sales pitch to all those reading the statement to buy more Corapi product to help sustain Fr. Corapi (and, one supposes, Santa Cruz and Bobbi Ruffatto) and to help pay his legal fees.

What to make of this interesting statement, and of the fact that, as with the initial statement about his having been placed on leave, it is Corapi himself making this material available on his own website?  The many conservative Catholic websites through which it spread like wildfire yesterday are, predictably, taking the statement at face value as an exoneration of Corapi and an explanation of what's going on: disgruntled, angry woman out to get him after being fired, devil attacking Godly priest, etc.  The statement was, of course, designed precisely to have this effect on Corapi's many supporters, and I gather from statements made by a number of Catholic bloggers who uploaded this document to their blogs yesterday that it was sent directly by email to the boxes of numerous blogsites when it was issued.

For my part, though, I see some big red flags in Ruffatto's statement, and those have nothing to do with a judgment of guilt or innocence re: the charges being made against Corapi.  About those, as I have repeatedly stated when blogging about Corapi's story, I maintain an open mind.  It is only just to Corapi to do so.  And, after all--this is a red flag, however--we known nothing at all about the charges, who is making them, what they entail precisely, from anyone except Corapi.  His religious superiors who are, I had understood, the ones who have removed him from ministry (not the bishop of Corpus Christi) haven't released any specific information (and on this failure of transparency on the part of Corapi's superiors, see Barbara Dorris of SNAP).

And the red flags:

1. This is a statement being made by an employee of a corporation that benefits financially from the sale of Corapi's videos and books, and Corapi's removal from ministry would seem to be affecting the sale of these items.  And so there is an element of self-interest in Ruffatto's defense of Corapi, which any right-minded observer of the situation would be foolish to discount.  (And I'm just now seeing this: Greg Kandra is reporting at his Deacon's Bench website that documents filed with the Whitefish Montana Election Commission show that Corapi himself is Santa Cruz corporation's CEO!)

2. There's also, I have to say, an element of unseemly duplicity in how Ruffatto depicts Santa Cruz.  As I've noted, there's the framing statement that the corporation is a secular one unaffiliated in any way with the Catholic church.  And then there's the exceedingly Catholic defense of Corapi that frames his current tribulations as if he is Christ making his way to Calvary and the Resurrection.  And the claim that Santa Cruz is a secular corporation must, on the face of it, be extremely surprising to the many devoted Catholics who have turned to Corapi and who are buying his videos and books precisely because they believe he teaches and exemplifies Catholicism in some unique way.  If Santa Cruz (i.e., "holy cross" in Spanish) is a secular corporation unaffiliated with the Catholic church in any way, then what the dickens does Ruffatto imagine she's doing advising the U.S. Catholic bishops to ditch the zero-tolerance policy of the Dallas charter?  Or going around consulting canon lawyers and making judgments about whether a bishop's actions are canonically "licit"?  Something about the "secular corporation" framing of this discussion just doesn't hang together, and calls into question the integrity of the entire statement, since there's a fundamental falsehood built into the statement from the outset.

3. There's also the misinformation about precisely who has placed Corapi on leave.  As I noted several days ago (see the first link at the top of this posting), to my knowledge, the only official statement about this made thus far is from his religious superior, Fr. Gerard Sheehan of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.  And it seems to say that SOLT has placed Corapi, who belongs to that community, on leave--albeit, with a request for an investigation coming to SOLT from Bishop William Mulvey of Corpus Christi.  If his own superiors have placed Corapi on leave, why is Ruffatto singling out Bishop Mulvey in her statement about "illicit" canonical actions?

4. And I'll reiterate: it's astonishing that the vice-president for operations of an ostensibly "secular" corporation is advising the U.S. Catholic bishops to ditch their zero-tolerance policy for abusive clergy.  That advice must come as a shock to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, USCCB president, in the very week in which he has reiterated his support for that policy.  And Bobbi Ruffatto is going even further: she and others ("we") are consulting canon lawyers and reporting to the public that said canon lawyers are judging the actions of a bishop "illicit"!

5. There's also the mystifying statement that "[t]he Church provides no financial support to Fr. Corapi. He has to pay for his own legal representation, medical costs, food, housing, etc."  Really?!  As a member of A religious community, SOLT, Fr. Corapi receives no financial support for food, housing, medical costs, etc.?  That astonishes me.  He's entirely dependent on the sale of his products through Santa Cruz to sustain himself?

6. Finally--and to my mind, this is the biggest red flag of all--there's an alarming pattern in what has gone on with both Fathers Euteneuer and Corapi, when it comes to revelations about the allegations of abuse made against both priests.  In both cases, it has been the priests themselves--the accused--who have broken the news of the charges made against them and subsequent actions taken in response to those charges.  In both cases, these rock-star priests with huge, powerful followings in the American Catholic church have been permitted to control the narrative (or to try to do so) about themselves, when allegations of sexual impropriety have been made against them.

I can't think of other cases in which this kind of control has been relinquished to a priest against whom similar charges have been made.  That in itself is a huge red flag to me.  How on earth have these two priests--these priests who are treated as virtual deities by many American Catholics--garnered such power?  And how is one of them being permitted to use that power to attack the Dallas charter and its stipulations about placing priests on leave with such open insolence?  And to attack a bishop who is trying to curb his behavior?

The picture that is emerging here--and, to his discredit, it's Corapi himself who is painting this picture by his continued use of his blog to try to control the conversation about him--is a very disturbing one.  It's a picture of a rogue priest.  Of a priest who has apparently been allowed (again, there are strong parallels to the Euteneuer story here) to roam about at will, speaking to huge audiences, claiming center-stage in American Catholicism as an exemplary defender of orthodoxy.  Enriching himself in the process.

And apparently largely unsupervised as he roams around.  This rogue behavior is a formula for disaster (on this, see David Clohessy at SNAP).  Even apart from the truth or lack of truth in the charges made about Corapi, this behavior deserves serious attention in and of itself among American Catholics interested in understanding the roots of the abuse crisis--which begins and ends with astonishing assumptions about priestly privilege and unchecked clerical power over others.

I would imagine the bishops feel no little chagrin at the behavior of priests like Corapi, with his willingness to make bold charges against their current policy for handling allegations of abuse, and with the implication underlying those bold charges--that he leads a cadre of faithful Catholics who are perfectly willing to go toe to toe with the bishops themselves to defend their priest-hero.  I find it difficult to feel much sympathy for the bishops, though, since they have enabled the arrogance--with its assumptions about clerical power and privilege--that lie beneath Corapi's attack on the Dallas charter.  If they really intend to chart a healthy course for American Catholicism, they need to deal with the clericalism that has allowed Corapi to act like a rock star for some years now, without, it appears, adequate supervision.  And with unchecked ability to develop a strong cult following around himself while he professes to be all about defending authentic, obediential Catholicity.

And I'll repeat my point, since it deserves repeating: Corapi's behavior following the suspension of his ministry deserves serious attention in and of itself among anyone interested in understanding the roots of the abuse crisis--which begins and ends with astonishing assumptions about priestly privilege and unchecked clerical power over others.

No comments: