Catholic composer David Haas accused of ‘sexual battery’ and ‘spiritual manipulation’

By JD Flynn for CNA

David Haas in a concert at the Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines. (Credit: Titopao/wikimedia.)

Denver Newsroom, Jun 14, 2020 / 06:43 pm (CNA).- The composer of several well-known songs used in Catholic liturgies has been dropped by a prominent hymnal publisher, amid accusations of serial spiritual manipulation and sexual misconduct.

“Early this year we became aware of allegations of sexual misconduct by David Haas, and we learned the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis was considering a decision not to provide him a letter of suitability,” GIA Publications said in a June 13 Facebook post.

“In response, we suspended our sponsorship and publishing relationship with Mr. Haas, and have not sponsored his work since late January,” the publisher added.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has also received multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against the composer, a spokesman told CNA, adding that in 2018 the archdiocese declined to provide Haas with a requested letter of reccomendation.

Haas, 63, is the composer of several songs included in the “Gather” hymnal published by GIA, which is among the best-selling and most used hymnals in American Catholic parishes.

The composer, a layman, is a central figure in the “contemporary liturgical music” movement that began in the 1970s, along with composers Marty Haugen, Fr. Michael Joncas, Dan Schutte, and the “St. Louis Jesuits” group.

Among Haas’ songs are some contemporary standards: “Glory to God,” “You are Mine,” “We are Called,” and “Blest are They,” among others.

A group called Into Account, which says it “provides advocacy and the most up-to-date resources to survivors seeking accountability,” sent last week a letter to some Catholic organizations and media outlets, addressing allegations against Haas.

The letter, obtained by CNA June 14, said the group had “received reports from multiple individuals reporting sexually predatory actions from the composer David Haas.”

“These individuals are in positions of professional and/or personal vulnerability that make it difficult for them to identify themselves publicly. They are almost all fearful of Haas’s retaliation, and based on what they have reported, we believe those fears to be well-founded.”

“The pattern that emerges from the reports we’ve received on Haas’s behavior constitutes a repeated, unethical abuse of the professional and spiritual power he has had in church music circles. Haas has allegedly targeted multiple women using techniques that abuse prevention experts identify as grooming, to create conditions in which women felt obligated to perform sexual favors in exchange for professional opportunities. His generosity, we are told, often came with a sexual price tag,” Into Account said.

“The allegations we’ve received also contain a disturbing component of spiritual manipulation. Haas reportedly focuses attention on women with past histories of abuse, then uses the vulnerabilities created by trauma to create intimacy. Multiple women have reported to us that Haas is skilled at making his targets feel spiritually affirmed, seen, and loved, with a keen understanding of how that spiritual intimacy can then be exploited sexually,” the letter added.

“Some women have described romantic relationships with Haas that felt consensual in the beginning, but were then marked by sudden, overwhelming sexual aggression from Haas, in which any resistance was met with extreme anger. Other women have described incidents that we would interpret as outright sexual battery, involving groping, forcible kissing, and aggressive, lewd propositions. The youngest victim reported to us was 19 years old at the time of the alleged sexual battery, while Haas was over 50.”

“We have no knowledge of Haas perpetrating any sexual offenses against minors, and we have no knowledge of any behavior from Haas that has led to criminal charges,” the group said.

Stephanie Krehbiel, Into Account’s executive director, told CNA June 14 that the group has heard from nearly a dozen alleged victims of Haas.

Krehbiel said the group first heard from an alleged victim of Haas through a confidential form on its website in early 2020. That contact let to reports from other alleged victims, and from people active in liturgical music circles, who had observations or concerns about Haas.

One alleged victim reportedly told Into Account that Haas had made unwanted sexual advances and forcibly kissed her during a religious education congress in Los Angeles.

According to Krehbiel, another said she met Haas as a student participant in Music Ministry Alive, a musical formation program for teenagers founded by the composer, who allegedly made inappropriate advances a few years later, when the former student was 19.

Krehbiel told CNA that her group aims to assist victims of sexual misconduct, assault, or battery. She added that because the allegations against Haas involve only adults, contacting law enforcement is “up to the discretion of the survivor.”

Into Account shared the information it had received, Krehbiel told CNA, because alleged victims hope their stories will prevent future misconduct. They hope “to take away his access to vulnerable people,” and ensure that “he is not able to continue to do this.”

Haas told CNA Sunday that he is preparing to release a statement this week, but declined to answer specific questions. As of Saturday, Haas’ page was no longer available on Facebook.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, in which Haas lives, told CNA June 14 that it too received reports about the composer.

“In November of 2018, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis received two reports that Mr. Haas acted inappropriately with two adult women at a recent event in another state. Both women complained that Mr. Haas’ conduct that evening made them feel uncomfortable. Mr. Haas denied misconduct. In 1987, the Archdiocese had received a complaint alleging that David Haas had made an unwelcomed sexual advance toward a young adult woman, which he also denied,” archdiocesan spokesman Tom Halden told CNA.

“Following the 2018 complaints, the Archdiocese informed Mr. Haas that the Archdiocese would not provide him with a letter of recommendation that he had requested.”

“Furthermore, the Archdiocese advised Mr. Haas that he was not allowed to provide services at Catholic institutions in the Archdiocese without disclosure of the complaints made against him,” Halden added.

GIA’s June 13 statement added that “new allegations of sexually abusive conduct by Mr. Haas continue to be reported. We take these reports seriously. GIA Publications supports and stands with victims. We must join together to address and prevent sexual abuse.”

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  1. What did GIA know, and when did they know it? This went on for decades. The bigwigs at GIA must have heard reports before this year. Just like McCarrick. What will GIA now do about it now that this is well-known? Will GIA remove all David Haas music for sale and from future hymnals? Silence = violence. You can’t sing his music at Mass anymore without disrespecting all abuse victims, because the music was written by a spiritual fraud and pretender.

  2. I suppose retiring cheesy music from that era’s a good thing in the end but I don’t believe this is the best reason for doing it.
    The lives of composers and other artists can be morally dodgy but we don’t want to start banning their works on that basis alone. If you did that you’d lose a big chunk of our cultural heritage.
    I personally think our current hymnals, with a few exceptions, should be put away and reexamined in 50 years to see what can be salvaged. Our local parishes hymnals are approximately 80 percent shlock.

  3. “These individuals are in positions of professional and/or personal vulnerability that make it difficult for them to identify themselves publicly. They are almost all fearful of Haas’s retaliation, and based on what they have reported, we believe those fears to be well-founded.”

    This is what comes of the unjust law of at-will employment.

    Even so, anonymous complaints are “violations” of the Sixth Amendment. I know that it doesn’t apply (it actually is only applicable to the federal government), but one of the biggest errors of our time is that the virtue of justice is only relevant in a government run system. If the anonymous accusers are lying or simulating and David Haas’s reputation and/or finances are damaged because of it, then injustice is occurring.

    I have read that in France (which used to be Catholic) a person’s crimes are traditionally only publicized after they are found guilty in a court of law. Otherwise, one is potentially facilitating the sins of calumny and/or detraction.

  4. On the one hand, credible accusations deserve investigation. On the other hand, guilty until proven innocent and accusers who can remain anonymous are antithetical to the presumption of innocence that used to be a bedrock right in this Country. And on the third hand, if we expunge all art created by objectionable people, we won’t have art, we’ll have political theater.

  5. For an adherent of “sacred music” to smear and disparage “pastoral music” in general – of which Haas is one of its foremost artists – just because of this allegation is a unwarranted and uncouth. An artist’s alleged misdeeds does not undo the art work that has benefited and enriched the lives of multitudes through the years.

    • Tell that to the many victims of sexual abuse who will be assaulted each time they hear a David Haas song at Mass. His music is totally tainted by his immorality and the potential for inflicting harm on others by singing his songs at Mass. You would say to victims, “I don’t care about your suffering because I like his music. So there.”

  6. So he is now a hetero pervert. The other St. Louis Jesuit Dan Schutte is a San Francisco homosexual. What is it about those who destroyed our liturgical music? You never hear about backlash against Schutte; his publisher is OCP which dominates 90% of the US missal market.

  7. Totally agree on distressingly impoverished hymnody. Catholics have been singing for 2000 years, not 60! Check out the St. Jean de Brebeuf hymnal. Totally singable, deeply researched and connected to long history. This is what we should be using in traditional Catholic parishes in the US! I just got my copy and it is a wonder. You could spend your lifetime absorbing everything in it.

    • You’re right, samton. That is shocking.

      About fifty years ago, when I was a teenager, a priest said that we should be patient with the banal, unlistenable drivel that was being passed off as sacred music.

      He said it would take a lifetime to replace the sacred Latin hymns with listenable and stirring alternatives.

      Well, here we are, a lifetime later, and we are still having our spiritual lives stunted and impoverished by such decades-old cringers as “Gather Us In” by Haas, and too many other grimly familiar but unlistenable dirges.

      If true, Mr. Haas’ alleged abuse of women is absolutely reprehensible.

      But his music’s longtime abuse of souls — which is undeniable — is also intolerable.

      The two types of abuse ought not be compared. Both are offenses to God and mankind.

      The one can only be sorted out by the courts. But perhaps the other could be remedied by CWR running a sacred music competition that would motivate both accomplished composers and talented young people to apply their skills to this considerable challenge.

      Top prize could be, say, $50,000, with the top twenty or thirty selections being published as the initial entries in a brand new hymnal. It could be called, ‘A New Leaf’. I’m sure many Catholics would be eager to contribute to raise the prize money for such a worthy cause.

      • For a suitable time frame, perhaps we can think about the Lutheran experience: the 95 Theses were posted in 1517, and Bach was born in 1685. That’s 168 years until their best composer was even *born.* It’s been 57 years since the Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. 111 years left til the pinnacle of the Catholic vernacular composition appears! And the early Protestant worship included “simple, pietistic music” that has not survived. So maybe this is a phase.

        But why are we singing hymns at Mass at all? They belong to the Liturgy of the Hours.

  8. Why are we Catholics considering the corrupt sexual ethics of modern societies acceptable? We already knew he was beyond-the-pale, but we had to wait until we knew there was something rapey about it to even offer a rebuke? Art is partially the product of the artist, and their spirit and contemplation goes in to what they make – like a teacher, they should be judged stricter than the commonest of people, and from the sounds of it, we weren’t even willing to hold Haas to COMMON standards.

  9. I believe that there are many people today who can compose meaningful beautiful music. However I feel that all kinds of politics from top to bottom in our chuch,discourages this.Get an electronic keyboard and you may be surprised what you can some up with, then play it on an organ.

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