John Norton, writing in the April 3 edition of Our Sunday Visitor, has a pretty good analysis of the possible outcomes of the Father John Corapi matter that has been sizzling news among Catholic blogs and websites. I protested a part of Mr. Norton’s essay. He advised Fr. John Corapi’s “diehard supporters” to consider this parenthetical statement: “Weren’t Father Marcial Maciel’s supporters just as vehemently certain of his innocence before it became undeniable that he sexually abused seminarians and his own children…?”
I was uncertain of John Norton’s intent, but he explained to me that he most certainly did not intend to use the Father Maciel case to detract support from Father Corapi. I think I understand his point, but let’s be clear. Every accused priest is entitled to a presumption of innocence. Can you imagine a teacher being accused, and then someone suggesting that because another teacher in another state was guilty of abuse, this teacher must also be guilty? It is deeply flawed logic, and it is deeply unjust. But it’s exactly what happens in just about every media storm involving an accused priest.
When I faced trial in 1994, my prosecutor – for whom I prayed a couple of weeks ago – repeatedly placed before the jury the fact that Father James Porter, a notoriously abusive priest in neighboring Massachusetts, had been suspected and convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse against many vulnerable victims. The sole evidence used against me was the fact that another priest in another state had abused children. So I reacted to the suggestion that Father Corapi’s supporters should be cautious because Father Maciel led a “double life.” It boggles the mind and offends justice, neither of which was John Norton’s intent in OSV.
I don’t think there is anyone in the online Catholic arena who is not aware that the highly popular and respected Father John Corapi has been placed on administrative leave. At least one bishop with truth and justice in his heart – and a good deal of courage – wrote of the Father Corapi case on his blog, Abyssus Abyssum Invocat (“Deep Calls to Deep”) on March 22. Bishop Rene Gracida, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, republished Father Corapi’s statement of defense, and reminded us all that “Father John Corapi is innocent and remains innocent until… he should be proven guilty.”
No one truly knows who to believe in any case of “she said, he said.” We tend to believe the person we know and disbelieve the person we don’t. Absent clear evidence, however, Father Corapi must be presumed innocent and must be treated as such. Meanwhile, this case has focused a national spotlight on the serious flaws of “Zero tolerance” in the U.S. Bishops’ collective response to the clergy sex abuse scandal. Father Corapi has himself addressed this flaw in his statement. Administrative leave is a penalty imposed long before guilt or innocence can be established.
One accused priest asked me this week why Father John Corapi wasn’t speaking out about this injustice BEFORE he was himself accused, but let’s be fair. He is not the first accused priest to learn only from painful experience that any priest accused is doomed to a cloud of unknowing and suspicion unless he can somehow prove his innocence.
In a March 25th column in the National Catholic Reporter (“On Philadelphia, bishops take wait-and-see stance”, John Allen quoted an unnamed bishop who was concerned about recent news in Philadelphia and the chilling effect it could have on the ministry of American priests. The bishop was quoted thusly:
“Every priest in the country is just one phone call away from disgrace and removal. I don’t understand why nobody seems to be speaking up on this.”
If by “nobody” the bishop means other bishops, then he might consider proposing some corporate reflection on the meaning and impact of “zero tolerance,” a policy adopted in a state of episcopal panic in 2002. I refuse to believe that the bishops haven’t noticed before now that every American priest is just a phone call away from having his career and ministry destroyed. It has been the elephant in the sacristy since 2002.
But if “nobody” means everybody else, then the bishop is wrong. Many accused priests have been speaking up about the unjust impact of zero tolerance and the reality of false accusations for years. I, for one, have been speaking up about it to anyone who would listen. My three-part post, “When Priests are Falsely Accused” is a graphic and cautionary tale about the subversion of justice and due process when all claims against priests are treated from the outset as true. They are not all true.
If you have read my post about one beloved Boston priest, 81-year old Father Dominic Menna, then you know he was sent into the exile of “administrative leave” last year because of a claim of abuse alleged to have occurred in 1959 that could not possibly be investigated or corroborated. I pointed out in that post that for many Catholics “zero tolerance is looking a lot more like zero common sense.”
Father Menna was placed on leave, and ordered to leave his home, “to protect children” according to a spokesperson for his diocese. Of course, children must be protected. That’s a given, and an absolute. But was that really a legitimate concern after a single, half century old claim? And as for “the integrity of the investigation” cited by the diocese…well… there WAS no investigation. There was no integrity either, not at any step in the entire process of casting Father Dominic Menna out.
I was visited in prison recently by an old friend who is also my Confessor. At age 75, and having reached “senior priest” status, he still drives eight hours round trip from another diocese to visit me in prison. He has done this for all of the 16-plus years I have been in prison. I am grateful beyond words for his fraternal, pastoral, and sacramental presence.
But at this visit he had a sullen gloom about him. I knew instantly that something was wrong. I asked if he was aware of the situation involving Father John Corapi. My friend looked down for a moment, then said “The same thing has happened to me.” He told me that he received a call from a lawyer from his diocese informing him that he has been accused by someone whose name he has never heard before. The accusation, which came with a demand for money, was alleged to have occurred in 1967.
“It’s not true,” my friend said. Well, of course it’s not true. The tale was too familiar, the details too scripted, but it was all no less chilling for its repetition. In my post, “Why Accusers Should be Named,” I outlined the connections between monetary expectations and false claims, and how “the settlement game” has placed all priests at risk.
As I looked into my friend’s eyes in the prison visiting room, I knew to a moral certainty that he is a victim of the tyranny of false witness. Dorothy Rabinowitz aptly titled her book about false claims of sexual abuse No Crueler Tyrannies.
Like so many of you, I want with all my heart to believe Father John Corapi’s claim of innocence as well, but I also know that sometimes even the very best of men fail. None of that matters, however. Father Corapi has a Constitutional right to a presumption of innocence unless and until someone proves otherwise with clear and convincing evidence. His Church, especially, owes him this.
I’m sure there is more coming on this story.
IT’S NOT ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA
News of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia has been painful, to say the least. After all that has been said and done in the last decade, there is a new priesthood crisis there that has consumed the Archdiocese and given the news media and others with agendas plenty of fuel for their anti-Catholic zeal.
Bill Donohue at The Catholic League has described how the “Philly Problem” has been overstated, however, and he is not alone in that belief. It seems there is indeed far more to this story than what the news media has printed to date. David F. Pierre has published a rather stunning analysis revealing another side of the media event in Philadelphia, and I highly recommend it. “Unfair in Philadelphia? A Closer Look at the Grand Jury Report” is available at www.TheMediaReport.com.
I’m most impressed with David Pierre for his media vigilance. You might remember from my post, “When Priests Are Falsely Accused Part 2: Why Accusers Should Be Named,” that David Pierre is the author of Double Standard: Sexual Abuse and the Assault on the Catholic Church, a landmark book profiled on These Stone Walls.
You may also remember David Pierre from my post, “Walking Tall: The Justice Behind the Eighth Commandment.” I wrote of the Special Report “Bombshell” he published in January describing evidence uncovered by Los Angeles Attorney Donald H. Steier who reported that a full fifty percent of abuse claims against priests have been false, money-driven frauds. David Pierre’s report on the Philadelphia debacle should be taken seriously.
PLEASE PRAY FOR MY BROTHER, SCOTT
I have a request for TSW readers. You might remember my younger brother, Scott, from a few TSW posts, most notably, “Take a Hike” and “Michelangelo and the Hand of God.” Scott is a remarkable man and a life-long friend. I remember vividly the day he was born.
Over the last two years, Scott and his lovely wife, Colleen have embarked on a great adventure. They have adopted two children, five-year-old Adaya from India and two-year old Anya from Ethiopia. My nieces are treasured additions to our family, and Scott and Colleen are gifted parents to these very special girls.
A few months ago, Scott suffered a painful broken rib that was diagnosed with an ultrasound. He had no idea at the time just how much of a blessing a broken rib could be. It was in just the right place, and came at just the right time, for an aggressive cancerous tumor on Scott’s kidney to also show itself on the ultrasound. The cracked rib may have saved Scott’s life, and Anya and Adaya from losing their new father. A biopsy identified the tumor as malignant, but it seems to have been discovered before the cancer spread to other organs.
I asked Scott if he minded my mentioning this and asking for the prayers of TSW readers as he faces surgery this week. He was all for it! So please do remember my brother, Scott MacRae and his wonderful family in prayer this week. Scott and I went through a lot growing up, and someday I may write of that. I want Scott to be around to read it, and to see the new life he and Colleen have given to their daughters.
For my part, I thank the Lord for that nettlesome cracked rib. Colleen, Adaya, and Anya thank Him as well. Grace sometimes comes in strange and mysterious ways.
FIFTY-EIGHT TIMES AROUND THE SUN
I’ll never forget the day I entered prison. It was a scene very much like one from “The Shawshank Redemption” the film I described in “The Spring of Hope.” Upon arrival in prison in 1994, I was stripped of my garments. I stood naked while a guard unceremoniously doused me with a delousing agent, then I was given a prison uniform, a pair of used sheets, an old blanket that smelled just awful, and a new identity: Prisoner Number 67546.
Just as when Andy Dufresne was led into prison in “The Shawshank Redemption,” the prisoners in my new home pressed against the bars of their cells and lined up behind plexiglass to view the spectacle. I was nothing but a news item then, and the prisoners here were ready for me. On Saint Padre Pio’s Feast Day in 1994, I carried my folded belongings down the long walkway of the cellblock tier in which I was to be locked up as prisoners chanted in unison, “Kill the priest! Kill the priest! Kill the priest!” The rousing, foot-stomping chant went on into the night. It was maddening.
I was a 41-year-old, rather naive priest then. This week (9 April), God willing, I will turn fifty-eight years old. It’s hard to believe that a year has past since I wrote “Fifty-Seven Times Around the Sun” near my birthday last year. Now I’m staring down my 17th birthday in prison, and I dread it. My date of birth is boldly displayed on the ID tag that I must have visibly present on my person at all times. So there’s no hiding one’s birthday here.
The foot-stomping death threats stopped long ago, but even after all these years, I am still seen as sort of a novelty in prison. It isn’t anything like popularity. No sane man ever wants to be “popular” in a place like this. Everyone here puts a great deal of energy into NOT being noticed.
It’s difficult to describe my relationship with the prisoners around me today. A sort of ritual has evolved. For each of the last several years on my birthday, I am proudly presented with a hand-drawn card by a small representative contingency of prisoners. I’m supposed to pretend not to have noticed that something had been afoot all week as they furtively snickered while adding their snide little notes to the circulating card.
It’s part of the ritual that I’m supposed to step out of my cell on my birthday, open the card in surprise before the anticipating crowd, then pretend to be utterly shocked at its comic depiction of me. Most don’t seem to realize that I’m usually not pretending. Then I open the card to read aloud some of the local sentiments about the fact that I’m a year older in a prison filled with aimless youngsters who have no expectation they will ever reach my age. I’ve written about some of the best of their birthday comments before but they’re worth repeating:
“G is so old that when he was born, the Dead Sea was only sick!”
“I know why G writes about history so much. He was there for most of it!”
“We were planning to have a cake with a candle for each year, but the Fire Marshall said we need a bonfire permit!”
And this little gem from last year’s card:
“We asked G what he wanted for his birthday, and he said, ‘Depends!’ So that’s what we got him!”
Pornchai boasts of the best line of all. On the day he turned 37 last September, we were all watching “The Shawshank Redemption” on television. Prisoners who know I work in the prison library snickered as the film’s prison librarian, a very old man, wheeled around a cart full of books. The cart had long since become the old man’s walker. “That’s you in a few years,” I jokingly said to Pornchai.
“That was you a few years AGO,” Pornchai retorted to wild applause. I can’t win!
Anyway, I’ll offer April 9th in this prison for TSW readers, and of course your prayers for me are greatly appreciated – far more than you may know. Thanks and blessings.