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First, Believe

A few years ago, when the news was filled with the reports of priests who had abused youths and the bishops who had been so derelict in their handling of the predator priests and in protecting the faithful, I remember thinking, “The problem is that they don’t believe. They don’t really believe.”

I found myself reprising that thought recently in light of the Corapi scandal and the flagrancy that has been attributed to his conduct now by Rev. Gerard Sheehan of SOLT. I am not going to rehash the details of the allegations, nor Fr. Corapi’s oddly incoherent (and only partial) denial of them, here. They have elicited comparisons with the Legionaries’ Fr. Maciel, not because they involve abuse of minors, but because of their flagrant nature. It is this that prompts reflection on the problem of belief.

The Catholic faith presents us with an ideal: perfection in holiness through love of God and neighbor. It calls us to that ideal as the goal of our lives and then gives us the tools to reach that goal. Against the seeming impossibility of that ideal and against every objection of our minds and weakness of our will, the Church holds up for our contemplation the saints, a vast company of those who approached this ideal and who say to us, “If we can do it, so can you.”

The saints believed in Christ and they believed in the teachings of the Church.  What they taught, preached, and wrote, they also lived. They possessed integrity, a unity of life, in which one is the same person in private and in public, dining among close acquaintances and walking among a crowd of strangers, in hidden thoughts and in observable deeds. Another name for this is sanity.

Few things are more stressful to the human frame than trying to maintain a double life, or a triple life, or any combination of identities where one has to act according to one standard with one set of people and according to another with a different group. This is not to be confused with roles, where a woman might be teacher by day and a student by night, or a man might be a cop and also a father. The Catholic faith and principles of conduct form a unifying thread of identity that anchors the soul without constraining human freedom to take on life’s various roles. They prevent fragmentation and disorientation; they promote clarity of thought and simplicity in being. They prevent insanity. For those who believe.

Yes, because it is an ideal, the standard of Christian perfection will always elude our grasp, but sincere trying, working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), recourse to the sacramental aids of the Church (James 5: 14, 15) – these things will keep us from straying too far; they anchor us and prevent our souls’ shipwreck. Our integrity may not be perfect, but even our recognition of that is evidence of sanity.

What then to say about flagrancy? Flagrancy does not demonstrate struggle, the common struggle we all have against sin. I say this, because in the discourse (a term lightly applied in some instances) about the case of Fr. Corapi and other cases where flagrancy is noted, one often sees comments to the effect that: “Hey, we have to be careful about judging because we are all sinners.” 

Yes, indeed we are.  And there is something to be said for this “we are all in the same boat” attitude – not least of all the fact that the Church teaches that sin has a communal aspect and we are all members of one body. But the person who asserts this believes, and is addressing other believers. As is also the person who asserts that what (insert name of priest here) taught was “always orthodox.” Be that as it may, the issue here is not what he taught, but what he believes. It is my contention that flagrancy may very well disclose that belief itself has gone out the window.

This is perhaps the hardest thing to fathom, that there can be priests, even priests who are known for strikingly presenting the faith or starting religious orders, or bishops themselves, who may not be believers. Who may not ever have been believers. Or who may have completely lost whatever belief they once had.

We are warned that sin can destroy faith, that it darkens the intellect. But it is one thing to be warned and quite another to have the series of  object lessons this parade of scandals has given us, isn’t it?  See, what one personally believes really is of more importance than what one teaches or preaches, for ultimately one will live what one believes – here and hereafter. The admonition of the flight attendants about the air mask applies to our faith – apply your own mask before attempting to help someone else. Work out your own salvation first. Believe before you teach. Believe while you teach. Believe after you teach. And if your own belief begins to waver, stop teaching and go apply your own mask. Now. Before it is too late.


Mary Kochan, former Senior Editor of CatholicExchange, is Editor-at-Large  of CatholicLane.com.

Raised as a  third-generation Jehovah's Witness, Mary worked her way backwards through the Protestant Reformation to enter the Catholic Church on Trinity Sunday, 1996.  Mary has spoken in many settings, to groups large and small, on the topic of destructive cultism and has been a guest on both local and national radio programs. To arrange for Mary to speak at your event, you may contact her at kochanmar@gmail.com.

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  • Wow. Powerful reminder.

  • Mary,

    I think the big issue is that too many Catholics put their trust in people when the Gospel constantly tells us not to because we will always be disappointed – people fail. If we put our trust in Christ then yes, these situations would be disappointing and saddening but there wouldn’t be the crisis of faith we see so many “Corapiites” suffering from. If we have a crisis of faith because someone has failed then we need to evaluate who we are following – Christ or his imperfect minister?

    • kaylancor

      Joshua, that is a great reminder and also (I think) the reason the Church has suffered so much in America. Too many people look outward (on the outside) rather than at the grace of the Sacraments. They look for a friendly, social community at the parish rather than going because they just want to worship God or be present with Him in the Eucharist. I am a convert to the Faith and while I was coming into the Church I met a “Catholic” who actually tried to seduce me. Obviously, he wasn’t a practicing Catholic (at least in that moment) but his actions did not phase me. To me, I was thinking only of God and the Church as His work, not this man who presented himself to me as a godly person but was acting quite the opposite. I could have easily been disgusted by this man’s actions and assumed all Catholics were not what they said they were. For some reason, I was given the grace to realize that the Church is not about trusting in other people but trusting in God. In the Corapi case, I can not really make a judgment because I honestly don’t know all the details. The accusations can be false against Corapi. The work he has done is certainly something the devil would like to destroy. The accusations could be true, but only those who are telling the lies (and the innocent) will know what is truth. I think we should just pray for all involved.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    I think the big issue is that too many Catholics put their trust in people when the Gospel constantly tells us not to because we will always be disappointed – people fail.

    That is the beauty of placing one’s trust in the canonized and beatified saints. All such saints invariably point one to Christ. And they have all passed — to heaven — which means they can no longer fail us. That is one of the most beautiful things about the Catholic faith: You can talk to those who have gone before you, knowing that your struggles were their struggles. It’s almost always an internal conversation, but it’s no less real for all that.

  • goral

    We follow people for the same reason ducks follow ducks and sheep follow sheep. We may be drawn to the message, the persona, the style or even the flagrancy.
    Imperfect ministers is what Christ gives us in the Church.

    What I’m reading in Mary’s message is that there is imperfection, sinfulness and striving with integrity
    and then there is imperfection with duplicity.
    The latter results in actions that are to some degree disjointed from one’s beliefs.

    In our time Mother Teresa and John Paul are vivid examples of a faith lived.

    • kaylancor

      I also think that we can not write anyone off because of their supposed actions. In the Corapi case we only hear about “his actions” from someone else. We don’t know anything about his accuser or his relationship with the Order in general. We also don’t know how one would react when their entire reputation and life as we know it are publically ruined. When Mother Teresa was alive, she asked special permission to leave her religious community and live amongst the poor by herself (on the streets). This was extreme but her wish was granted. To some, that might appear as if she was doing something out of the norm associated with her religious community. I give this example, because we can not compare any soul to another. I honestly don’t know what to believe in the Corapi case so I think our only resort is to pray for all involved. 🙂

  • kaylancor

    I really liked the end of this article. Applying our own mask is good advice, especially given all the blog comments I’ve seen all over the net about the Corapi case. I honestly can not know the truth of the case. Corapi may be telling the truth, that people are trying to make him look bad. He certainly has a right to defend himself and his reputation, which have been severely destroyed by the accusations against him. Anyone would be frantic to do what they can to restore their honor and reputation. I personally wish this entire case had gone unseen, out of the public eye because the accusations against him are personal. He is not accused of any criminal activity which would put society in general at risk. And society itself, can not make a proper judgment (and we really have no right to) because we don’t know anything about his accuser or any of the details regarding Corapi’s life outside his ministry work. This whole case has made me think of St. Joan of Arc, who sat accused by the English clergy. They were her political enemies but since they were Church related, they should have given her the benefit of the doubt. St. Joan must have felt betrayed by the Church because of the Church figures who were sentencing her. The conflict within must have been great. But she loved the Church and did not abandon it. Corapi did state this same line in his statements. Let us ask St. Joan to help him and all involved in this case, so that a holy resolution will come about that helps the Church as a whole.

  • After a recent CL column on priest sex abuse I began reading the report of the Grand Jury concerning abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The report, which was issued around 2005, is 400+ pages long and I read about a fourth of it. I run short of adjectives when I try to describe what I found in its pages.

    Priests committed the most horrific crimes against children, and not just once but many times over by an individual priest, with the same victim and with multiple victims. Children were turned against their parents by priests who would say things like “Your mother knows we do this, and she approves.” Altar boys who believed in God and trusted in priests had their lives destroyed. The list of crimes goes on and on.

    Reading the sick litany, I thought to myself, “Do these people even believe in God?” The priests who committed the crimes certainly evidenced that they did not, that they did not believe in God’s love and they certainly did not believe in God’s justice. They apparently thought that if their crimes could be successfully hidden, they would get off consequence-free. The Grand Jury report concluded that while there were thousands of specific crimes, none could be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had run out. The cover-up on the part of the perpetrators and the hierarchy was successful, at least in terms of human law.

    God knows the secrets of men’s hearts, and there is perfect justice. No one gets away with anything forever in this universe. We ought to pray for the child victims of sex abuse – and also for the villains to be brought to justice, because God will “heap burning coals on their heads.”

  • luke1_28

    I remember Pope Benedict XVI saying that the root of the scandal was due to a lack of faith of priests, I think?

    Furthermore, I think we are subject to the forces of the ‘unholy trinity’ – that is, the world, the flesh, and the devil. Fr. Corapi was exposing the darkness in this world, calling out the concupisciences of our flesh, and brought to light the work of the devil more than any modern preacher. He is being attacked…either as one guilty or innocent. Whatever his case may be, whether Corapi is innocent or guilty, the devil is having his day.

    Problem is, I don’t see obedience as being on Fr. Corapi’s agenda anytime soon. Nor selling all he owns. Why? Lack of faith is the root of it for Fr. Corapi.

    I would add too, that we are all insane. I think it was Peter Kreeft or Fr. Benedict Groeschel that once said, there was only one sane person in this world EVER. Jesus Christ. The rest of us are insane. Fr. Corapi, in one of his talks spoke of St. Philip Neri viewing a prisoner walking to the gallows pole to which the Saint exclaimed, “There but the grace of God, go I.”

    I think we should all learn from this sad state of affairs for Fr. Corapi, that we all need to work on our own faith, realizing we are all insane, and due to that insanity, be aware that without God’s grace, we could all fall to the darkness and/or be subjected to it’s slanderous/libelous attacks.

  • Gerry

    June 20, 2001
    Statement by, Fr Gerrard Sheehan, SOLT?Regional Priest Servant
    “At the onset, the Bishop of Corpus Christi advised the SOLT to not only proceed with the policies outlined in their own constitutions, but also with the proper canonical procedures to determine the credibility of the allegations against Fr. Corapi. We reiterate that Fr. 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 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.”
    July 5, 2011
    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    From: Rev. Gerard Sheehan, SOLT Regional Priest Servant Society
    of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Robstown, Texas
    “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.

    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.”

    Comment: In 15 days, Fr. Sheehan goes from an investigation of “credibility” of allegations to charging, prosecuting, judging and sentencing Fr. Corapi. And this, we are to understand, was the “canonical due process” of the Catholic Church in Corpus Christi as administered by Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity?

  • Polycarp

    In the Gospel it is written, much will be given, but much will be expected back in return.
    Due to the higher education that most people have, they are trying to RE-define what has already been defined by Christ Jesus, Himself, the Saint’s and The Church.
    Christ Jesus being very SPIRITUAL, mastered His physical Self.
    This is from HIGHER Sacred Sciences ( deals with God, Himself, thus OUR relationship with Him and Christ Jesus ), namely metaphysics’s “God’s existence, is His Essence”.
    Since we are supposed to be made in the image and Likeness God and His Only Son Christ Jesus, then that line must hold true for the rest of us then.
    Not having a SOLID background, properly formed conscience in Higher Sacred Sciences ( St. Thomas More had such training ) having a higher secular education ( helps us to be coherent rational animals ) with minimal Catholic background, “we” are adding to the decay of our Society.
    I could write alot more, but most people would have to literally start with the basic’s and re-learn and work their way up, other word’s “grow in the faith”.
    Want to strengthen one’s WILL more??? Lite more Church candles, genuflect more, making the sign of the cross, Ladies putting on Chapel Veils for Church, you are using a lot of physical muscles to do that stuff, praying, going to and into the confessional also uses a lot of muscle to do that also.