Fr. John Anthony Corapi is a 64-year old Catholic priest who is well known to many conservative Catholic readers of this blog. I knew very little about him personally until quite recently. I have enjoyed listening to him on Relevant Radio now and then. He is an engaging speaker and in style could pass for a passionate evangelical preacher! He is humorous, convicting, clear and winsomely human. He speaks about his past, sometimes a bit too much for some, but he seeks to exalt Jesus in his redemption. He is dogmatic and generally very opinionated. Corapi has had both extensive television and radio ministries for several years and has conducted speaking tours across North America that have introduced him to countless thousands of the faithful. Fr. Corapi’s story is available at his own web site as well as at Wikipedia.
Earlier this year Fr. Corapi was charged with sexual impropriety and drug addiction. His bishop began an investigation in March. Fr. Corapi pled with his listeners and friends to support him. It was all very moving and genuinely sad. But in June he resigned from public ministry. He unconditionally asserts his innocence of the charges against him. This is why the unfolding story has become so important for a number of my Catholic friends.
After a rather amazing life of sin and religious apostasy Corapi became a heavy drug user and landed in deep trouble. He now refers to this drug use period of his life as an encounter with a demon. His wild and sinful lifestyle eventually led to mental breakdown and homelessness. This sinful background has quite often been used, with great effect, in his preaching.
Corapi actually spent three years wandering the streets as a homeless man following his mental breakdown. His Catholic mother sent him a prayer card with the Hail Mary prayer and asked him to pray it once a day. He eventually changed his life, escaping homelessness and illicit sex and drugs. His mother sent him a one-way airline ticket back to New York, and he returned home. He lived with his mother for some time, coming home to God on June 24, 1984. He then entered a Catholic seminary and was ordained a deacon in 1990.
But his story does not end there. On May 26, 1991, Pope John Paul II ordained Fr. John A. Corapi to the priesthood. He served as a parish priest in Hudson, New York and Robstown, Texas. Fr. Corapi is a member of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. He received a masters degree in Sacred Scripture from Holy Apostles Seminary, Cromwell, Connecticut, and a doctorate in Dogmatic theology from the University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain. He is not only a gifted speaker but also a powerful apologist for the Catholic Church.
Fr. Corapi cut back on his public appearances because of health issues in 2008. He now broadcasts worldwide from his studio in Kalispell, Montana. Fr. Corapi has been a regular contributor on the EWTN radio network. He has great regard for the Virgin Mary as well as several saints, including his namesake, St. John, and the much loved Italian mystic Padre Pio.
There is so much more that you can learn about Fr. Corapi by searching the two sites that I linked above but the next part of his story that I will tell is relevant, or so I believe. In 2002 Fr. Corapi filed a much discussed lawsuit against a cardiologist and a hospital. The doctor was eventually declared a fraud and lost his license. Fr. Corapi received a large settlement from this claim. The details of this story have always been disputed but Fr. Corapi came through it in good standing.
But in March of this year Bishop William Mulvey (photo) of Corpus Christi, Texas, instructed the SOLT religious community to assign two independent priests to investigate allegations, made by a former employee, that Fr. Corapi had been in a relationship with her and is (still) a drug addict. At this time Fr. Corapi was placed on administrative leave by his religious superior, Fr. Gerard Sheehan. Corapi strongly denied the allegations as entirely false and claims that the entire process is flawed. Sheehan issued a statement in March emphasizing that the suspension "in no way implies Father Corapi is guilty of the allegation.” Corapi then filed a civil suit against the former employee for breach of contract, thus entering the court system for the second time in the last decade. The television network EWTN suspended broadcasts by Corapi when he was placed on leave and the story began to quickly spread.
On June 17 Fr. Corapi announced that he would no longer be involved in public ministry as a priest. On a new website entitled The Black Sheep Dog, Corapi made the following statements:
There are certain persons in authority in the Church that want me gone, and I shall be gone. ... 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. ... My canon lawyer and my civil lawyers have concluded that I cannot receive a fair and just hearing under the Church's present process. The Church will conclude that I am not cooperating with the process because I refuse to give up all of my civil and human rights in order to hold harmless anyone who chooses to say defamatory and actionable things against me with no downside to them. ... I am, indeed, not ready to be extinguished. Under the name "The Black Sheep Dog," I shall be with you through radio broadcasts and writing. My autobiography, The Black Sheep Dog, is almost ready for publication. My topics will be broader than in the past, and my audience likewise is apt to be broader. I'll do what I can under the circumstances.
I have been asked by several to comment on this story. The best that I can provide is a few general observations and a recounting of the relevant material for those who want to learn more. Fr. Corapi’s own information is available online at his site. Here you can listen to his announcement as to why he is leaving the priesthood. A dear Catholic friend wrote to me the following: “I have thoroughly enjoyed his preaching over the past few years, so this is quite a shock. I seriously question the sanity of his decision, but that is between him and God. All I can do is pray for him.” That is a very charitable response and sounds about right to me. Further news of this sad decision by Fr. Corapi can be accessed and read here.
I am afraid this Catholic brother expresses my general impression of this matter, at least based upon the limited research that I did over the last few weeks. I so hope that Fr. Corapi is entirely right and that my impressions are proven wrong. The tragedy is that there will be no real way to know if he is innocent or not unless his accuser admits to lying. This kind of charge leaves a person in the ministry in such a vulnerable place. I am personally convinced, by a good deal of my reading and dialog with Catholic leaders, that most of the accusations of sexual misconduct against priests are false. Had the church never allowed attorneys to file suits against the Catholic Church, not simply the individual priest, much of this would never have gotten to first base.
But, and this is huge in my mind, the Catholic Church provides a well-ordered basis for investigation and response in these cases. Priests down through the centuries have been suspended for a time and some for a lifetime. And some of this has eventually proven to be unjust. Yet good priests have chosen to suffer and allow the process to go forward. It seems to me that this is at the core of the vow a priest takes in terms of loyalty to his bishop. Fr. Corapi has chosen to go around his bishop and defend himself, all on his own. In this case he didn’t even wait for exoneration or conviction but simply left his order and vows. And he did this after only three months. He may be entirely innocent but his actions are not those of a faithful priest, at least so far as I understand the matter. (I am sure my Catholic friends can explain this far better than me.) Meanwhile, I pray for Fr. Corapi and all of those who gained so much good from his mission. The disillusionment and loss to people is huge, underscoring that this problem is not a Catholic or evangelical problem, but a human one.
Fr. Corapi’s self-proclaimed moniker is "the black sheep dog.” You can listen to his message about this new name and even read some of the blogs about Fr. Corapi posted on the National Catholic Register.
All Christians should feel sadness in this matter. And all Christians should pray for Fr. Corapi, as well as his bishop and superiors. We should all “take heed to ourselves lest we also fall.” The whole story brings grief and loss to many. I hope Fr. Corapi is eventually exonerated but it seems unlikely he will be given his choice to walk away from the process. His choice, which is so un-Catholic in both process and conclusion, is much more typical among evangelical preachers, especially those who are not aligned with a specific denomination. Our stories have made the news, much, much too often. Now this one joins the sad legacy that harms the faithful and the work of Christ around the world. There is nothing here that is new under the sun but this still hurts the witness of Christ deeply. I pray for this man and all of those who love him and were helped by him.