Thursday, June 30, 2011

Warmed-Over News: Some Final (?) Nagging Questions about the Corapi Story

This is old news.  And nothing is less appetizing than a warmed-over dish of last week's hot news.  

Still, I've been holding onto several pieces of commentary about the recent announcement of Fr. John Corapi that he was defecting from the priesthood rather than permit the ecclesiastical investigation of claims of sexual harassment against him.  I've held onto these with the intent to post something about them here, because, to my mind, they're significant pieces of commentary.

And because they point to some hidden or unanswered questions in the Corapi story that, I believe, continue to demand attention.  And which may well fall by the wayside, now that Corapi has removed himself from ministry.  And I wonder if the decision to leave the priesthood was even designed to do that--to divert attention from several important details of his story that have come to light only now, and which suggest that this story is deeper and more complicated than the public has been previously led to believe.

The first article to which I want to direct reader attention is Max Lindenmann's commentary at the Patheos site, in his An Israelite Without Guile series.  Lindenmann is, I'm finding, one of the most incisive analysts of the contemporary American Catholic scene, and a darned good writer, too.  In this piece, he compares Corapi's announcement about  his intent to leave the priesthood with the statement his religious community, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT), was compelled to issue after Corapi made that announcement.  Additional SOLT commentary also appeared at the National Catholic Register site.

Up to that point, SOLT had been silent about what was going on--as it should have been, since the complaints made against Corapi were still under investigation.  Once Corapi resigned from the priesthood and made further statements about the ecclesial process, SOLT had no choice except to respond.  And as Lindenmann points out, there are large discrepancies between what Corapi says about the process investigating him, and what SOLT says:

Taken together, the two stories look like one of those how-many-differences-can-you-spot placemat puzzles for kids—and not terribly bright kids, either. "I am being asked to give up all my civil and human rights" sounds a lot more draconian than "They wanted to make me restore some of the rights I made my employees give up." "Certain persons . . . want me gone" makes a much snappier entry in a martyrology than "they tried to accommodate me and my lawyers, but we decided to cut bait, anyway."

I'm inclined to credit the regional priest-servant. Why? His account is precise and detailed, and he shows no interest in inculpating Corapi. Corapi's is vague, with an operatic sweep and the apparent goal of inculpating the entire Church except for himself. If Corapi's SOLT superior had mentioned he'd galloped naked through the mother house, swinging a cutlass, then we might be forced to compare apples to apples.

Specifically, here is what is now apparent, as one compares the two sets of . . . complementary . . . statements  about Corapi's situation up to the time of his defection from the clerical ranks (and Colleen Baker has already offered a valuable summary of these points at Enlightened Catholicism):

1. When the employee who filed a complaint against Corapi for sexual harassment left his employ--when she left Santa Cruz Media--Corapi made her sign a non-disclosure contract buying her silence.  She was forced to sign a statement saying that she would not disclose "anything that happened to her" while she worked for Santa Cruz.


2. It also turns  out that Corapi copyrighted his new trademark name, Black Sheep Dog, a full year before he resigned from the priesthood.


I don't know the answer to either of the two why questions I've just asked.  The answers to the questions that both raise may well be benign.  Like anyone else, Fr. Corapi deserves to be considered innocent of any charges made against him until he's proven guilty.

But here's the situation his actions--going public with yet another statement, blocking the ecclesial process against him, launching a new venture to continue his ministry in another guise, but without its previous official basis in the Catholic church--have created: a former employee had filed a serious charge against him.  He was removed from ministry as a result.  The matter was under investigation.

And he then chose to resign, rather than letting the investigation reach its conclusion.  So that the charge against him is now left dangling, and may well simply never be investigated.  And when one considers that he had made the person filing this charge sign a non-disclosure contract--and that we now know this because SOLT was able to reveal that piece of information after Corapi took his new drastic steps--then something seems awry with this whole story.

Specifically, it seems that an individual whose name we don't know, who had asked for justice within the church structures when, as she alleges, injustice was done to her by a priest, is now likely not to have a hearing.  Corapi's resignation thwarts the hearing of this person's complaint, and may well have been designed to do that.

And given the very short attention span of the public, all of this may soon blow over, Corapi will launch his new career, and that person who asked for a hearing . . . . 

There's a disturbing missing (and perhaps soon to be misplaced) piece in this story, and it's the nameless individual who has not had a hearing and will apparently not have a hearing now.  And there are very disturbing indicators buried in the two alternate summary accounts we now have, pointing to the distinct probability that the Corapi saga is far more tangled, and has deeper roots, than we were led to believe when it came to light some months ago.

One has to wonder to what extent Corapi's latest moves are a deliberate attempt to obscure those deeper, tangled roots and to keep aspects of the larger story from being made known.  And if that's the case, what to make of the fact that no less than a retired bishop, RenĂ© Gracida of Corpus Christi, waded into the very muddy waters of this mess following Corapi's announcement, to defend him.  Muddying the waters even further, with insinuations that Corapi has not had a fair hearing within church structures and is only temporarily leaving the priesthood.  

Where Gracida goes, baggage goes with him.  To know more about him, the circles in which he moves, and the political and socioeconomic players he represents (and this is the second article I've been holding and thinking about for some days now), look at Frank Cocozzelli's excellent statement about why Gracida qualified for Frank's annual Coughie award last year, and already seems to have placed himself in the running for another Coughie this year.

My conclusion: the Corapi story has deeper roots and broader ramifications than we've been told.  And we may never see those roots exposed or those ramifications aired in public now.  Some powerful players with deep pockets and strong right-wing political connections have been part of this story.  And they may not want the story fully told.

But whoever filed the complaint about Corapi deserves justice, just as he does.  And if we care about justice--and truth--we'll continue to ask that justice be done in this situation.

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