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Friday, June 24, 2011

Beloved Hero of the Church Leaves Priesthood...

Several months ago, I wrote a blog about the plight of Fr. John Corapi, one of the most revered Catholic televangelists of our time, who was suspended after being accused by a former employee of sexual misconduct.

As an admirer and fan of Fr. Corapi, whose testimony profoundly touched me because of his tumultuous life, which went from a humble upbringing, to multimillionaire realtor that ran in the fast lane with the Hollywood crowd, to cocaine addiction, homelessness, and mental breakdown, before pulling his life back together through faith, I was disheartened by the story of the charges against him and subsequent suspension.

Now, I'm sure skeptics might say that a leopard never changes his spots, but those of us that have experienced, and continue to experience, conversion understand, while the sin within us remains strong, the choice to remain faithful with the help of God is even stronger.

Still, what made the disappointment more frustrating, is that it became a case of he said, she said, or better stated, she said, he said, with the truth proving elusive to determine and the circumstances questionable, to say the least. I thought his reputation, as one of the most dynamic and staunch defenders of the Catholic Church, would be stained forever.

Even so, I wrote that regardless of Fr. Corapi's innocence or guilt, I did not believe in the Church because of the priests, the pope, a creed, or the religious service, but because I believed the Catholic Church was established by Christ upon the rock of Peter and the Apostles, who were given the authority that Christ received from God the Father. Peter and the Apostles, as written in scripture, preserved Christ’s teachings, proclaiming them to all corners of the earth and handing them down to bishops and presbyters (priests), who continue to pass them forward from generation to generation, despite their many faults and weaknesses.

The reason for my regression is that last Saturday, while on vacation with my family at a hotel pool in Ponte Vedra, Fl., my wife shows me an article on her cell phone that put a little damper on my day.  It was an article stating that Fr. Corapi was resigning his public ministry as a priest on Sunday, the day marking his 20th year anniversary in the priesthood, which was also Fathers’ Day.

What struck me about his decision was that despite being a fervent defender of the Apostolic succession of the bishops for two decades, he was taking such a drastic step instead of following the footsteps of other wrongfully maligned priests, like Pio of Pietrelcina, who humbly submitted to the authority of the Church and carried his cross, until he was exonerated and eventually venerated a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

In his resignation letter, Fr. Corapi, who called himself, The Black Sheep Dog, said that his autobiography, with the same title, would soon be released, and insisted that he loved the Church and accepted what had transpired. However, his tone was less than accepting. In fact, it was somewhat disconcerting and abrasive.
I did not start this process, the Bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas ordered my superiors, against their will and better judgment, to do it. He in fact threatened to release a reprehensible and libelous letter to all of the bishops if they did not suspend me. He has a perfect right to do so, and I defend that right. Bishops aren’t bound by civil laws and procedures in internal Church matters. I agree with that, and would defend to the death the Church’s right to proceed as they see fit. He is the bishop and he has the right to govern as he sees fit.
A follow up voice commentary a few days later, called The Black Sheep Dog: Unleashed was just as critical.  This time he also took aim at his accuser, who he called an alcoholic looking for a payday (although he said he forgave her!).

National Catholic Register's, Jimmy Akins writes that both the name of his new ministry, The Black Sheep Dog, and his voice commentary, "Unleash," have very renegade connotations and makes one wonder if he will turn on the Church and lead his sheep away from the flock.

Fr. Corapi denies any ill intent on a recent commentary and dispels any notion that he was leaving the Church or going to opposed it in any way. In fact, he said that despite leaving the public ministry, like all ordained priests, he was a priest forever.
Once a man is ordained a priest he remains a priest for all eternity. Holy Orders is one of the three sacraments that imprints an indelible mark on the soul. What the Church can give or remove is “faculties”, which authorizes the person to publicly administer the sacraments. I always cringe when I hear “he’s not a priest anymore.” If he ever was, he still is. What they mean is that he is not functioning in the normal way most priests function, that is, publicly administering the sacraments. Most folks’ contact with priests is the parish priest. They come in contact with him primarily when he administers the sacraments.

A priest is ordained primarily to confect the Eucharist. A validly ordained priest can do this in the normal setting of a parish or community celebration of the holy Eucharist, or in private, as I have done for twenty years. It has the same power. The power is not from how many people are present, it is from the same sacrifice of Calvary made present in time and space. The celebration of the sacraments is a monumentally noble, holy, and powerful thing. Please don’t misunderstand me and think I believe anything less than that. Each of us is called to a unique way of serving God and society. Certainly I was called to be a priest, but not as a parish priest, and that is not out of character with the history and tradition of the Church. St. Paul was a mission preacher basically. He traveled widely and preached.
The unfolding drama is dejecting for everyone involved but also for the millions of people, like me, that have followed Fr. Corapi through the years. However, there is solace. Fr. Chris Martin makes a good point in the St. Louis Today web site:
For those who feel disheartened or lost when a very charismatic individual falls from grace or is hidden from the limelight, another scripture passage comes to mind. “Put no trust in princes, in mere mortals powerless to save” (Ps 146:3). Whereas it is good and holy for us to acknowledge the good gifts that God has placed within individuals, we always remember that it is God who is the source of those gifts.
I still want to believe the charges against Fr. Corapi are not true but disagree with his decision, as some might argue, to take the easy way out and quit instead of enduring as our faith calls for. He never came across as a quitter and this will only lead to more speculation and doubt. Of course, that is easier said than done and let's face it, he is not getting any younger and may feel he has limited time to continue his mission.  As he says in his recent post, we don't know all the facts involved but because of his abrupt exit, we may never know them (unless exposed in a best selling book!).

I only hope and pray he can continue to proclaim the Faith, faithfully and that wisdom, faith and charity prevail...

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