Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Corapi Story: An Update (and Questions about What These Stories Say about Us)

After I posted about the John Corapi story yesterday, a number of news sites published articles with further information about who has taken him out of active ministry, and why this has happened.  The most comprehensive account I've found comes from Catholic News Service (CNS), and is now on many diocesan websites throughout the U.S., including this version at the Baltimore archdiocesan site.

The article notes that Fr. Gerard Sheehan, speaking on behalf of Corapi’s religious community, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT), states, "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 into this accusation." Sheehan also indicates that Bishop William M. Mulvey of Corpus Christi has asked SOLT to have two priests who are not diocesan clergy or SOLT members to investigate the allegation. 

The article reiterates that Corapi claims he is innocent, and also notes that Corapi has challenged the bishops' 2002 zero-tolerance policy in the past.  As he does once again in his blog posting breaking the story of his removal from ministry, to which I pointed readers yesterday . . . . 

And as I read this CNS article, I'm struck by its opening line, which sets out a theme that recurs in the article: CNS states, 

Father John Corapi, a popular author and preacher who has had speaking engagements all over the world, has been placed on administrative leave from priestly ministry over an accusation of misconduct. 

This line strikes me because, if you remove Corapi's name, the article could equally well be speaking about Father Thomas Euteneuer.  Or several other high-profile Catholic priest-evangelists who have figured prominently in EWTN broadcasting in recent years, and on conservative Catholic talk circuits around the country.  Priest-evangelists who seem to attract dollars as honey does flies or magnets do filings, as they fly around the country preaching the gospel in one venue after another.

The CNS article goes on to say,  

According to his website, Father Corapi has traveled more than 2 million miles preaching the Gospel since his 1991 ordination by Pope John Paul II. He has preached in 49 of the 50 states, all of the Canadian provinces except Newfoundland, and several other foreign countries.  . . . 

Besides television and radio, he also preaches about the Catholic faith using the Internet and various other multimedia formats. He is the author of several books and has produced a number of multimedia products. 

And again, I have a sense of déjà vu as I read this.  It's very much like what I read about Euteneuer's past at Catholic news sites when the Euteneuer story broke (see, for instance, the links to the many sites publicizing Euteneuer's numerous appearances around the nation in this posting I did at the time the Euteneuer story came to light).

And so as the Corapi story comes to the table, I have to ask all over again, as I asked when I reviewed the Euteneuer story: what do these stories say about us, about us American Catholics?  What kind of solidly grounded, morally astute faith community gives such a high profile to rock-star priests who turn out (in Euteneueur's case, this is now clear, at least) to have such clay feet?  Why this appetite for the effusive, demonstrative, oh-so-certain and predictable macho-posturing haranguing and shouting--which is hardly to be distinguished from the behavior of any of the myriad of  high-profile evangelical preachers of the religious right to be found on television or radio stations throughout the nation 24-7?  

And the money that flows their way--the money that flows in the direction of both those televangelists and the rock-star priests: what does it say about us as a faith community, that we Catholics are willing to emulate this model of the American religious right that has been found in recent years to have such gaping holes in it?  Money lavished on men who turn out to be vain, empty shows, strutting and fretting their hour upon the stage and then heard no more.

Full of sound and fury.  Signifying nothing.

It's altogether too easy to blame the Euteneuers and Corapis themselves (or the Swaggarts and Bakkers and Eddie Longs).  But someone has to keep these men in business.  Someone has to pay for all those plane tickets and hotel rooms and limos and meals (and hair tonics or razor cuts and dyes and tanning booths).  Someone buys those books and tapes.

Someone keeps putting money into the collection baskets even as the Catholic bishops point to these rock-star priests (and John Paul II, who pioneered this rock-star activity among priests) as the kind of priests seminaries need to be using as models, to clean up the mess that is the abuse crisis.  Even when the bishops themselves have created that mess--not those they want to scapegoat with the finger-pointing about effeminate priests and the misleading, downright silly prescription of Fr. Corapi Starter Kits as the fix to the crisis. 

And that someone is, I fear, us.  It's we American Catholics who have been dropping the dollars into the collection baskets, and sending in the dollars to EWTN and the publishers of Corapi and Euteneuer's books.  It's we who have gladly footed the bills for their plane trips, one trip after another, to harangue us about our shortcomings (or the shortcomings of those we conveniently like to blame for the ills of the world) and how the devil is plaguing the righteous while they live the high life.  

As John Shuster concludes in some stellar commentary to yesterday's posting about Corapi, these stories--the recent stories about Euteneuer and Corapi, in particular, I'd note--raise some important $24,000 questions about us Catholics in the U.S.:

Why do so many Catholics respond to forms of intellectual and spiritual abuse with rote co-dependency? The cult of personality component of Roman Catholicism promotes narcissists like Corapi. It is institutionalized idolatry. 

If we can use the Euteneuer-Corapi stories to get to the bottom of those questions, we might finally begin to move forward to some effective resolution to the abuse crisis.  But if we intend to move forward, we need to be forewarned: answering those questions is going to implicate us in what has gone on in the abuse crisis.

And it's going to hold up to us an uncomfortable mirror in which we may not like what we see, as we ask why we've been so willing to be bedazzled by the smoke and mirrors of John Paul the Great, Thomas Euteneuer, John Corapi, and so forth, while survivors of clerical sexual abuse have desperately sought to get our attention and to show us what really lies behind all the smoke, and what the mirrors are designed to conceal.

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