More details emerge about Fr. Corapi’s situation

Today we learned some new things about the Corapi situation, and the most important ones—those that do the most to back up Corapi’s claims—came not from Fr. Corapi, but from SOLT, the religious order from which he was suspended (at the instigation, he claims, of Bp. Mulvey of Corpus Christi, whose diocese includes SOLT’s American HQ).

The first thing we learned came from Fr. Gerard Sheehan, Corapi’s religious superior, via the National Catholic Register. To understand the money quote, we must first note that the former employee who instigated this process had signed a non-disclosure agreement with Corapi’s company, Santa Cruz Media, and that Corapi has filed a civil defamation lawsuit against her. Against this backdrop, Sheehan claims that “[i]n canon law, there can’t be any pressure on witnesses; they have to be completely free to speak. The investigation was compromised because of the pressure on the witnesses. There were other witnesses that also had signed non-disclosure agreements … [and so w]e tried to continue the investigation without speaking to the principal witnesses.”

The second thing we learned came from Sheehan, again, via SOLT’s blog. Incredibly, Sheehan admits that Corapi was placed on leave before any determination of credibility had been made about the accusations. That is made crystal clear: After three months, “SOLT had not arrived at any conclusion as to the credibility of the allegations under investigation,” and “[i]f the allegations had been found to be credible, the proper canonical due process would have been offered to Fr. 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.” Worst of all, Sheehan claims that this “suspend immediately, investigate later” model is “normal procedure.” (More on this point in a footnote that we’ll get to later.)

If these self-accusations are true, Corapi has every reason to feel hard done by. Separately, each datum is troubling. But when they are put together, the picture becomes truly unacceptable.

Let us first take them separately. As to the first, imagine trying to import such a rule into a civil law context. In essence, the rule would be this: If you file a lawsuit, the defendant may exclude any witness’ testimony simply by filing a counterclaim that implicates them. That’s insane as a matter of legal policy, and I’m not sure that it would even be constitutional. As to the latter, imagine if your employer suspended you from your job—and required you to remain silent and take no other work—every time they received an anonymous complaint about you. Or imagine that the government abolished the probable cause requirement and went about arresting people for the duration of an investigation based on any complaint received, even anonymous ones, deciding on whatever timetable best suited them whether the complaint was credible enough to be tried. 1 I think we would be appalled. We would call it, with some justification, Orwellian. Yet this is precisely what was done to Corapi—not based on his say-so, mind you, but based on SOLT’s admission against interest.

So, taken separately, both items point to something being rotten in the state of Denmark. But consider their cumulative effect. Corapi was suspended pending a determination of the complaint’s credibility, and a bizarre procedural rule was then invoked that eliminated any realistic possibility of making that determination, leaving the case in limbo. Feed that into what we already know: A complaint was made by someone under cover of anonymity, who stands to lose nothing from a false accusation. On their unilateral say-so, Corapi was suspended, before any kind of assessment of the complaint’s credibility was made. And because of an insane (alleged) canonical requirement, the investigation could consult none of the principle witnesses!

We can now better understand Corapi’s original statement that there was no way to resolve the situation without giving up his rights. SOLT placed Corapi on administrative leave while investigating the credibility of the complaints against him. 2 It seems to be the case that the charges could (or at least would) be neither dismissed nor tried without such a determination. And by an obscure alleged canonical device, they appear to have excluded the only witnesses through whose cooperation such a determination could be made, because they were the subject of a civil suit by Corapi for defamation (among other things). No wonder Corapi felt that the suspension was functionally indefinite: On these stipulations, the case was left in limbo. We may therefore parse Corapi’s statement that he couldn’t get a fair trial and the matter couldn’t be resolved without dropping his rights: SOLT seems to have essentially said, you’re suspended until we can asses the credibility of the complaint, and if you don’t drop your civil lawsuit, we can’t assess the credibility of the complaint. That is not an attractive hill to defend.

So many people in the Catholic blogosphere have disappointed me in the last few days with the almost total failure of empathy for Corapi’s situation. And, quite frankly, some of his most ardent admirers have done him no favors either, insisting  that it’s inconceivable that Corapi did anything wrong, either with this woman (unlikely, I think) or in his response to the complaint (arguable: Why couldn’t he just drop his civil suit and be patient? For Pete’s sake, Father—literally! It’s only been three months, and is it really so important to litigate this stuff? Is it worth sacrificing your public ministry as a priest?). I don’t want to be misunderstood: I remain an admirer of Fr. Corapi, and that’s no less true because I refuse to close my eyes to the possibility that even the best of us can fall. We are all sinners, and I think Corapi’s public statements since friday humbly acknowledge that point (“Perhaps I deserve that,” he said on Friday, and again today: “I accept what has happened, kind of as a punishment for my past sins; I wasn’t perfect, you know, and I’m still not perfect”; is this what we would expect from the kind of man Corapi’s critics have attempted to paint him as?). Nevertheless, I will believe his version of events until given some reason not to, and given what we have learned today, I am convinced that he has been dealt a procedural wrong. Perhaps—as SOLT’s chilling statement that this is “normal procedure” implies—it is nothing personal, but wrongs multiplied are not wrongs diminished. As things stand today, Fr. Corapi appears, by some way, more sinned against than sinning.

 

Post facto:

 

Notes:

  1. I suggested last week that Corapi had probably acted rashly by bailing out after only three months, a timeline, I suggested, that barely transgressed the Speedy Trial Act. Given what we now know, we can say that was error, because it misunderstood the case’s posture. The Speedy Trial Act requires trial within seventy days of the indictment, but it also requires the indictment to follow within thirty days of the arrest. The posture of the Corapi case at its conclusion is more analogous to the former than the latter, which means that the Speedy Trial Act—which, I underscore, I am not applying to this case, to which it obviously does not apply, but am merely using as a benchmark for a reasonably expeditious process—would have been violated in mid-April.
  2. Which, by the way, is a disgraceful failure of due process in itself given that there was no possibility of ongoing harm by leaving him in situ. I support immediate suspension pending a speedy determination—and I do mean speedy—of credibility in abuse cases, cf. MP: The Kansas City fumble (June 7, 2011), but that is a narrow exception to the rule. Here’s why the balance of equities sometimes tips toward immediate suspension in abuse cases: Such cases typically involve a priest in active ministry who is, if the complaint is true, in a position to do more harm. But such extraordinary relief can only be granted when (1) there is a clear and present danger of ongoing harm that (2) will be ameliorated by suspension. In this case, there is not the slightest suggestion that either criterion is met.

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