In the previous installments in this series ("Detraction, Calumny, and Father Corapi: The Accuser" and "Detraction, Calumny, and Father Corapi: SOLT"), we looked at the case of Fr. John Corapi by examining the actions of the accuser and of Father Corapi's religious order. In both pieces, we assumed neither guilt nor innocence on the part of Father Corapi, but considered whether the accuser and SOLT might be guilty of detraction or calumny if he is innocent or if he is guilty.
Now, in this final installment, we'll examine the actions of the Black Sheep Dog himself. Whatever opinions one may hold about Father Corapi and the likelihood of his guilt or innocence, one thing is clear: John Corapi, as he has repeatedly said, is not a man who plans to "lay down and die." In speaking out in his own defense, he has not minced words about either his accuser or his superiors in his religious order. But could the things he has said amount to either detraction or calumny?
Obviously, if Father Corapi is guilty of the actions of which he has been accused, the answer is simple: In accusing his accuser of lying, and in claiming that his religious order and the bishop of Corpus Christi want him "to be gone," Father Corapi would be guilty of calumny. If the things his accuser have said are true, the only way he would not be guilty of calumny would be if he is somehow unable properly to distinguish truth and falsity—if, for instance, he is mentally ill. But there seems no reason to think that that is true.
But what if his accuser lied, and Father Corapi did none of the things of which she has accused him? Wouldn't the answer then be simple, too? After all, if Father Corapi is simply defending himself against false charges, how could he possibly be guilty of detraction or calumny?
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Father Corapi certainly has a right to defend himself against unjust accusations, but he has to do so justly. For instance, he cannot decide that he will counter a lie with a lie. In the course of his defense, Father Corapi has said a number of things about his accuser that are quite damaging to her reputation. If any of those things are untrue, Father Corapi would be guilty of calumny, even if his accuser has lied about him.
We saw in other installments that circumstances can make the difference between detraction and mere truth-telling. Here, we see the opposite about calumny: If you tell someone a lie about a third person, it doesn't matter if that third person has also been telling lies about you. Two wrongs—hers and yours—do not make a right.
Let's continue to assume that Father Corapi's accuser made up her accusations entirely, but now let's assume that everything Father Corapi has said about her is true. He obviously isn't guilty of calumny, then, since calumny requires telling a lie. But could he have engaged in detraction?
Possibly. Remember that the current Catechism of the Catholic Church says that a person is guilty of detraction if he, "without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them." Is self-defense an objectively valid reason? Under most circumstances, probably yes. The things Father Corapi has said about his accuser undercut her credibility, and therefore make her allegations against him seem less likely.
Yet the person who is defending himself must still mount his defense proportionately. He cannot engage in the moral equivalent of the old Cold War doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction. In other words, if someone lies about you to your boss, you cannot turn around and reveal every bad thing you know about her to the entire world.
And that brings us to an important point. As we discussed in the previous installments, neither the accuser nor SOLT made the allegations against Father Corapi public. It was Father Corapi who did that. Having done so, he's not exactly in the best position to make the argument that he had an "objectively valid reason" to reveal his accuser's sins.
Of course, it might have been hard for Father Corapi to remain silent, since the suspension of his priestly ministry during the period of the investigation required him to cancel large public events. Questions would have been asked, and he would have to provide at the very least some vague yet truthful answer. Yet in deciding it was better to get the allegations out into the open at the very beginning, he actually opened himself up to the charge of detraction (as we have seen). The best we can say (if we continue to assume his innocence) is that he was in a Catch-22—damned if he did; damned if he didn't.
Finally, there's the matter of Father Corapi's civil lawsuit against his accuser. Under normal circumstances, a civil lawsuit is a public document, and the material contained therein can be detrimental to the defendant. For instance, while the accuser has so far declined to make a public statement about her allegations, the lawsuit (naturally) lists her name. It also details many (though not all) of the allegations that she made against Father Corapi, including some which make her look pretty bad. For example, in making the allegations, she admits things about her past and indicates that her alleged illicit actions with Father Corapi were consensual.
And so we arrive at a very unusual point. Let's assume one last time that the accuser is telling the truth. Even though one cannot normally be guilty of both detraction and calumny as the result of a single statement (calumny requires telling a lie; detraction requires telling the truth), in this situation Father Corapi would be guilty not only of calumny (because he insists that his accuser is lying) but of detraction, because in the lawsuit he has publicly revealed her sins.
We could run through the same set of suppositions regarding Father Corapi's statement about SOLT, but the circumstances are rather similar, so there's nothing much to be gained by doing so. (If you have any particular questions, however, feel free to ask them in the comments.)
And so we arrive at the end of our attempt to use a real-life example to illustrate the difference between calumny and detraction. I hope that you have found it useful. If you would like to read similar discussions of moral questions using examples currently in the news, please say so in the comments!
- Detraction, Calumny, and Father Corapi: Introduction
- Detraction, Calumny, and Father Corapi: The Accuser
- Detraction, Calumny, and Father Corapi: SOLT
- Definition of Detraction in the online Catholic Dictionary
- Definition of Calumny in the online Catholic Dictionary
More on Father John Corapi:
- A Priest Forever: The Strange Case of Fr. John Corapi
- Putting Father Corapi in Perspective
- A Falsely Accused Priest Looks at Father Corapi
- 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