A Priest Forever: The Strange Case of Fr. John Corapi

The Life of a Black Sheep Dog

Priest leaving church
Priest leaving church. Aliaksandr Lukyanyuk / EyeEm / Getty Images

The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. (Psalm 110:4)

The Psalmist's words ran through my mind as I listened to "John Corapi (once called 'father,' now 'The Black Sheep Dog')" announce that he is "not going to be involved in public ministry as a priest any longer."

The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent . . . The same, alas, cannot be said for Father Corapi.

When Father Corapi announced (on Ash Wednesday, no less) that he had been suspended from public ministry, a number of readers asked me to write about the situation. I never did, because, to be honest, I could think of nothing worth saying. Allegations of sexual improprieties and drug use had been made by a former employee of Father Corapi, and they were being investigated by the competent Church authorities. If the allegations were found credible, Father Corapi would remain suspended while a canonical trial occurred; if they were not, Father Corapi would be allowed to resume his public ministry.

(You can find full coverage of this story in The Case of Fr. John Corapi.)

To say anything beyond those basic facts would be to engage in speculation at best, or scandalmongering (calumny, if the charges were false; detraction, if they were true) at worst.

Now that Father Corapi has publicly announced that he intends to leave the priesthood, however, there are a few things that need to be said.

If the allegations against Father Corapi are true, in whole or in part, then it is best for all concerned—including the Church as a whole—that he be laicized. The behavior he is alleged to have engaged in is consistent with Father Corapi's own account of his life before his mother, with the perseverance of Saint Monica, prayed him back into the Church. If he has relapsed into the self-destructive behavior that once left him penniless, homeless, drug-addicted, and near death, he will never be able to function as a priest again without causing scandal.

If, on the other hand, the allegations against Father Corapi are completely untrue, then the action that he took on "both Trinity Sunday on the Catholic liturgical calendar and Fathers' Day on the secular calendar" is, in some ways, even worse than what he was alleged to have done. Drug abuse could destroy his health and affect the people around him; having (presumably consensual) sexual relations with several women would be a violation of his vows and affect his spiritual life and theirs.

But in leaving the priesthood (and, in so doing, bringing the investigation into the allegations against him to a crashing halt), Father Corapi is breaking the most important promise he has ever made, the vows that he took at his ordination. And by doing so publicly, and by publicly damning the ecclesiastical authorities that even he acknowledges have "the right to govern" as they see fit, he not only places his own soul in danger but encourages distrust, anger, and even hatred of Church authorities in his many followers, putting their souls at risk as well.

The bishops are the shepherds of our souls, but Father Corapi is telling his sheep that they do not need shepherds, only a "Black Sheep Dog."

Father Corapi's mother had the perseverance of Saint Monica, but Father Corapi, alas, is no Saint Augustine.

The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. (Psalm 110:4)

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