On July 5, Father John Corapi’s order, the Corpus Christi, Texas-based Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, released a statement saying that the well-known priest had violated his priestly vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity:
…SOLT’s fact-finding team has acquired information from Fr. Corapi’s e-mails, various witnesses, and public sources that, together, state that, during his years of public ministry:
He did have sexual relations and years of cohabitation (in California and Montana) with a woman known to him, when the relationship began, as a prostitute; He repeatedly abused alcohol and drugs; He has recently engaged in sexting activity with one or more women in Montana; He holds legal title to over $1 million in real estate, numerous luxury vehicles, motorcycles, an ATV, a boat dock, and several motor boats, which is a serious violation of his promise of poverty as a perpetually professed member of the Society…
The statement was an incredible repudiation of a priest who was SOLT for many Catholics, and whose bold proclamation of the Church’s teachings made him a hero to thousands of rank-and-file believers.
Two days later, Corapi released a response in which he countered some, but not all, of the charges laid against him by his former order. He stated that the “unique nature of the mission” with which he had been entrusted by SOLT’s founder required him to be financially independent of the order. He also denied having a sexual relationship with the unidentified woman of SOLT’s statement.
The story began on March 18, when Corapi’s superior, Father Gerry Sheehan, SOLT, announced he had placed Corapi “on administrative leave from priestly ministry, in accordance with the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church,” explaining, “We have an allegation that Father Corapi has behaved in a manner unbecoming of a priest and are duty-bound to conduct an investigation into this accusation.”
The exact reasons for this action did not become known until Father Corapi released a statement of his own the next day. In it, he revealed that a female former employee had sent a letter “on or about February 11, 2011” to several bishops, accusing him of unchastity and illicit drug use. CWR has learned this letter went to between five and eight ordinaries.
After Corpus Christi Bishop William Michael Mulvey received the letter, he first consulted with his canonists. He then contacted Father Sheehan and recommended the Society follow proper canonical procedure by investigating the credibility of the allegations. In his statement, Father Corapi implied a vendetta on the bishop’s part, but a diocesan source says this was effectively the beginning and end of the bishop’s direct involvement in the affair. “Categorically, there is no such animosity,” says the source.
At this point, SOLT placed the well-known evangelist on leave per the Code of Canon Law §1722. Furthermore, since “innocent until proven guilty” does actually hold in canon law, this measure is meant to be “not penal but preventative and prudential,” according to the Navarre commentary on canon law.
Following this, the once-ubiquitous sermons and presentations by Father Corapi on Catholic television and radio disappeared overnight.
Relevant Radio Executive Director Father Francis Hoffman explained to listeners and contributors that if his network continued airing Corapi’s programs, it “may unintentionally undermine the authority of [Corapi’s] superior by leading the faithful to conclude that the superior unjustly put him on ‘administrative leave’ because the allegations were not credible. It is entirely up to the proper ecclesiastical authority (bishop/superior) to determine if the complaint has merit, or the allegations are credible…. When there is a doubt in the matter, Christ’s faithful should give the benefit of the doubt to the proper ecclesiastical authorities (bishop/superior) and in that way contribute to the unity of the apostolate. In all cases, it is best to consult with the local ordinary for guidance on such issues.”
The global Catholic TV network EWTN made a similar statement.
In his March 19 announcement, Father Corapi stated, “I’ll certainly cooperate with the process, but personally believe that it is seriously flawed, and is tantamount to treating the priest as guilty ‘just in case,’ then through the process determining if he is innocent. The resultant damage to the accused is immediate, irreparable, and serious, especially for someone like myself, since I am so well known.”
But officials in the matter took pains to stress that presuming Father Corapi was guilty simply by virtue of his being placed on administrative leave was not in order. “Father Corapi…should be presumed innocent of these allegations until proven otherwise,” Marty Wynd, director of communications for the Diocese of Corpus Christi told Catholic News Agency. “We have to be very, very careful here and not presume any kind of guilt.”
This is where things stood for three months. Then, on June 17, Father Corapi released a statement announcing he was halting his cooperation with the canonical investigation, would no longer engage in “public ministry as a priest,” and would instead continue writing and broadcasting under the name “The Black SheepDog.” In this and subsequent announcements, he has alternated between professing submission to Church authorities and criticizing them in forceful language.
Even though the investigation had been underway for just three months and had not reached any conclusion, Corapi claimed the “Church chose to believe…a very, very sick woman, with an axe to grind, filled with hatred. They threw me under the bus; threw me out like yesterday’s garbage. Well…I’m not bitter about it.”
He also indicated that Bishop Mulvey had pushed the investigation. For instance, on June 21, he spoke of “the bishop’s star witness against me,” when it is widely understood that SOLT was conducting the investigation and Bishop Mulvey’s involvement is limited to oversight since the Society was in his diocese. Yes, he encouraged the investigation, but sources say he was not leading it.
Father Corapi made his reputation based on a compelling conversion story and his uncommon gifts as a preacher and teacher. He peppered his talks with spell-binding twists and amusing one-liners, and this packed huge arenas with adoring disciples. EWTN made his talks part of its regular programming, and virtually every Catholic radio station in the United States featured his lectures at least once a day.
Almost since he began his celebrity ascent in the 1990s, one woman stood by his side. This assistant served as his Girl Friday, “guard dog,” confidante, travel manager, sales manager, bag holder, and business manager. When Corapi left his hermitage in Georgetown, California and moved two hours north, she accompanied him. He bought her a house in which to live, while he lived several miles away in a three-bedroom, lake-front house with a private dock inside a gated community.
After winning $2.7 million in a malpractice settlement in 2004, Corapi moved his media operation to Kalispell, Montana, near the second home of his old college friend Joe Zerga, who was his co-plaintiff in the aforementioned lawsuit. His assistant moved with him, and he helped set her up in a sizable, nicely appointed home. Indeed, one source says it looks virtually identical to Corapi’s home, which is nearby. When she entered the Catholic Church, Father Corapi stood as her sponsor.
Things seemed to have maintained apace for at least five years. Then on September 30, 2009, Corapi fired “for cause” this long-time assistant and her husband. According to Zerga, speaking in an interview with CWR, it was due to the woman’s alleged alcoholism. Indeed, the disease’s reported impact on her even became a part of Father Corapi’s public presentations.
On October 30, 2010, Corapi told a full house at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey:
My two key employees for the last 10 years are both alcoholics…. Last year, they finally left, and you have no idea how much agony I went through with them, and how much agony they went through, and all I can do is keep praying. Now I ask you right now to pray for them. Pray for them that somehow God in His mercy will release them from that bondage.
Zerga says Corapi paid for several stints in rehab for the woman, and yet when he finally cut her off after perceiving there was no hope, “She just turned on him.” Zerga speculates that the letters she sent to bishops were possibly her way of “lashing out.”
Through all of this, Father Corapi’s devoted fans wanted to believe him, and many did. Yet, judging by the thousands of comments on blogs, his statements mystified far more than they persuaded. Among the questions raised by bloggers was why Father Corapi claimed the process inhibits knowing the accuser and the charges, when his first statements made his accuser’s identity and her accusations clear. He said allowing the investigators unfettered access to witnesses would cost him his “civil and human rights,” when in fact he could have adjudicated his civil suit at a later time. Why did he stop cooperating with the investigative process after only three months? And why would a man who has so elegantly proclaimed the joys of the priesthood renounce public ministry so easily after 20 years of laboring in the vineyard?
It now appears Corapi short-circuited his participation in the investigation, not because he could not get a fair trial, but because he knew that he could not prevail.
According to the SOLT release of July 5, Corapi tried hard to block the investigation: “After receiving the allegation, SOLT formed a three person fact-finding team to ensure that it handled this matter in accordance with canonical norms…. As the Society was engaging this team, Fr. Corapi filed a civil lawsuit against his principal accuser. He contended that she had defamed him and breached her contract. The contract, according to Corapi’s lawsuit, contained a provision binding the woman to silence about him. He offered the woman $100,000 to enter this agreement.”
“SOLT’s fact-finding team subsequently learned that Fr. Corapi may have negotiated contracts with other key witnesses that precluded them from speaking with SOLT’s fact-finding team. Many of these witnesses likely had key information about the accusations being investigated and declined to answer questions and provide documents,” continued the release. “When the fact-finding team asked Fr. Corapi to dismiss the lawsuit, to forbear from foreclosing his mortgage, and to release her and other individuals from their contractual obligations to remain silent about him, he refused to do so and, through his canonical advocate, stated: ‘It is not possible for Father Corapi to answer the Commission’s questions at this time.’”
The release concluded with the statement that SOLT has “directed Fr. John Corapi, under obedience, to return home to the Society’s regional office and take up residence there. It has also ordered him, again under obedience, to dismiss the lawsuit he has filed against his accuser. SOLT’s prior direction to Fr. John Corapi not to engage in any preaching or teaching, the celebration of the sacraments or other public ministry continues. Catholics should understand that SOLT does not consider Fr. John Corapi as fit for ministry.”