WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity said it was “saddened” that Father John Corapi, one of the most visible members of its order, has decided to leave the order and the priesthood.
Father Corapi, 64, declared June 17 in a YouTube video and a blog posting on one of his websites, that he was leaving because he could not get a “fair hearing” on misconduct allegations that were lodged against him in March and which included what the priest said were sexual abuse charges.
The order, commonly referred to as SOLT, was in the midst of investigating the allegations when Father Corapi made his announcement. “Although the investigation was in progress, the SOLT had not arrived at any conclusion as to the credibility of the allegations under investigation,” said the statement, issued June 20 by Father Gerry Sheehan, the order’s regional priest-servant and Father Corapi’s superior.
Father Sheehan said the order’s last communication with Father Corapi took the form of a June 3 letter from him “indicating that, because of the physical, emotional and spiritual distress he has endured over the past few years, he could no longer continue to function as a priest or a member of the SOLT.”
When Father Corapi made his public announcement he was definitely leaving the priesthood, “we heard it just like everyone else did, from YouTube,” Father Sheehan told Catholic News Service June 20 before the order released his statement. “We’re as surprised as everyone else is.”
The allegations first surfaced March 16, according to Father Sheehan’s statement, when the order and Bishop William M. Mulvey of Corpus Christi, Texas, the diocese where the society is based, received a letter from a woman alleging “conduct not in concert with the priestly state or his promises as a member of a society of apostolic life.” Father Corapi was suspended until an investigation into the charges could be completed.
Father Corapi had been highly visible for several years as a speaker and preacher, including a program on the Eternal Word Television Network. EWTN had taken his show off its schedule shortly after his suspension, saying it would not knowingly put on the air a priest whose faculties had been suspended.
The National Catholic Register, which is published by EWTN, reported June 19 that a complicating factor in the investigation was a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed by Father Corapi against his presumed accuser, forbidding her to reveal details of her tenure at Santa Cruz Ministries, the company owned by the priest that sells his CDs, DVDs and books.
“The SOLT is deeply saddened that Father Corapi is suffering distress. The SOLT is further saddened by Father Corapi’s response to these allegations. The SOLT will do all within its power to assist Father Corapi if he desires to seek a dispensation from his rights and obligations as a priest and as a professed member of the SOLT,” Father Sheehan’s statement said. “We request your prayers and the intercession of the Blessed Mother for the healing of Father Corapi and for any who have been negatively affected by Father Corapi’s decision to end his ministry as a priest and a member of the SOLT.”
In his blog posting, Father Corapi said, “For 20 years I did my best to guard and feed the sheep. Now, based on a totally unsubstantiated, undocumented allegation from a demonstrably troubled person I was thrown out like yesterday’s garbage. I accept that. Perhaps I deserve that.”
Father Corapi had complained from the outset, and he reiterated June 17, that the process used to investigate the allegations means “you are for all practical purposes assumed guilty until you can prove you are innocent.”
He said he would continue his radio work, but his website indicated his last radiocasts were only online, and the most recent of those were in mid-April, before Easter.
“Father Corapi had not been determined guilty of any canonical or civil crimes. If the allegations had been found to be credible, the proper canonical due process would have been offered to Father Corapi, including his right to defense, to know his accuser and the complaint lodged, and a fair canonical trial with the right of recourse to the Holy See,” Father Sheehan said.
It was not immediately clear whether the investigation would continue.
“They can’t prove I’m guilty of the things alleged because I’m not, and they can’t prove I’m innocent because that is simply illogical and impossible,” Father Corapi said in his statement.
“I accept moving on, but I am not ready to be altogether extinguished just yet.”
Father Corapi’s Facebook page, which has nearly 53,000 followers, was filled with posts reacting to his announcement, with many people supporting him and denouncing the allegations and the church, although some lamented his decision to leave the priesthood and others suggested caution in interpreting the events that led to his decision to leave the priesthood.
Santa Cruz Ministries was still offering a half-off discount on his CDs, DVDs and books in recognition of the 20th anniversary of his ordination. One of Father Corapi’s attorneys said in March the business — which was not under church control — would continue, with proceeds helping pay attorney fees. The business has its headquarters in Kalispell, Mont., where Father Corapi has a residence, although he did not have priestly faculties in the Diocese of Helena, Mont.
Copyright © 2011 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops