Fr. John Corapi's announcement that he will abandon his priestly ministry continues to send shock waves throughout the Catholic Church in America, as debate rages on this site and others about whether he has made the right choice. Most of those who support Father Corapi's decision to trade the title "father" for the moniker "The Black Sheep Dog" point to problems in the way that the Catholic Church in the United States handles allegations against priests in the wake of the clerical sexual abuse scandals of 2001-2002. They argue that Father Corapi cannot receive a fair hearing within the Church, and point to the investigation into the allegations against Father Corapi, which has taken three months yet apparently is still far from deciding whether the allegations are sufficiently credible to warrant a canonical trial.
(You can find full coverage of this story in The Case of Fr. John Corapi.)
Fr. Gordon J. MacRae understands the problems with the system better than most. The priest behind the blog These Stone Walls: Musings From Prison of a Priest Falsely Accused, Father MacRae has served over 17 years of a 67-year prison sentence, because he has repeatedly refused to plead guilty to charges of sexual abuse that he did not commit.
In the week's after Father Corapi's announcement on Ash Wednesday of his suspension, but before Father Corapi's June 17th announcement that he was abandoning his priestly ministry, Father MacRae wrote for These Stone Walls "Father John Corapi's Kafka-esque Catch-22 Ordeal." (The link goes to a slightly modified version of the article on the indispensable Spero News website.)
No matter what you may think of Father Corapi's case and his decision to leave the priestly ministry, I urge you to read Father MacRae's piece, because it is perhaps the best summary of the problems that exist in the broader process (not specific to Father Corapi's case) today.
There are points of interpretation on which I disagree with Father MacRae. He writes, for instance, that
I commend Father John Corapi for his obedience and fidelity to legitimate authority in the Church, but that authority must also recognize Father Corapi’s "Catch-22." If he is a priest falsely accused, he also has a moral obligation that may be commanded by a higher law. He has a moral obligation to the truth.
Some of those who support Father Corapi's decision to abandon his priestly ministry rather than to cooperate with the investigation have viewed these lines (written before that decision was announced) as a justification for Father Corapi's decision. I suspect that they may be right that Father MacRae would regard them that way as well, though we won't know until Father MacRae comments, if he ever does, directly on Father Corapi's decision.
To me, however, those lines miss one important point: The bishops and the superiors in religious orders have a moral obligation to the truth as well. That's why the Church establishes processes to deal with such cases, because conflicting claims to truth need to be examined in order for a just outcome to be reached. When those processes are flawed, they should be revised, not ignored.
Christ promised His disciples that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church; He did not say that they would not prevail against our private consciences. Our hope lies in Christ and His Church, even when we find ourselves faced with flawed processes that may take longer than we wish to obtain a just result. To speak of a "higher law" may place us in danger of elevating our fallible consciences to an infallible authority.
All of that said, however, let me reiterate that Father MacRae's article should be read by all who are interested in Father Corapi's case. Father MacRae knows better than almost anyone the problems with the current process; what is unclear, however, is the best way to fix the process to avoid such problems in the future.
(Picture of Fr. Gordon J. MacRae from These Stone Walls used with permission.)
More on Father John Corapi:
- A Priest Forever: The Strange Case of Fr. John Corapi
- Putting Father Corapi in Perspective
- Should Priests Live in Community? Reflections Inspired by the Case of Father Corapi
- Fr. Gerard Sheehan Drops a Bombshell on Father Corapi
- SOLT Release on Father John Corapi a Hoax?
- Father Corapi Responds to SOLT: "I Am Not Extinguished!"
- Is Bishop Gracida Distancing Himself From Father Corapi?
- EXCLUSIVE: Fr. MacRae Clarifies His Remarks on Fr. John Corapi
- Reader Question: What Should I Do With Father Corapi's Materials?
- What Has Happened to Fr. John Corapi?
- Novena of the Week: To the Sacred Heart
- Novena of the Week: To Saint Mary Magdalene
- Wordless Wednesday: Give Me Your Body, O Christ