We should pray for all those clergy falsely accused of sexual abuse

Fr John Corapi, a well-known speaker and author, has been put on 'administrative leave' while an allegation against him is investigated (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, Catholic Spirit)

There can be very little doubt that it had become necessary to set up some kind of procedure for the protection of children from sexual abuse by that tiny minority of priests who have been involved in this hideous crime. As I have repeatedly pointed out, this minority is numerically no greater than the percentage of abusers in the male population at large. According to one source, “the prevalence of paedophilia in the general population is not known, but is estimated to be lower than five per cent based on several smaller studies with prevalence rates between three per cent and nine per cent”. The rate among priests is almost certainly at or below the lower end of this range. That is, of course, no excuse for those who have committed it. It’s no defence to say that priests are no worse than other men: they ought to be a good deal better. As Archbishop Vincent Nichols has rightly said, “in the last 40 years, less than half of one per cent of Catholic priests in England and Wales (0.4 per cent) have had allegations of child abuse made against them. Fewer have been found guilty. Do not misunderstand me. One is too many… The work of safeguarding, needed within any organisation and within our society as a whole, is demanding but absolutely necessary.”

So, something had to be done, even though the Church is practically the only organisation in society which is actually doing it. First, those very few children and teenagers actually in danger from Catholic priests obviously had to be protected. Second, and understandably, Catholic hierarchies, having erred in one direction in the past, had to make sure they were immune from such accusations in the future. So they set up procedures so rigorous that they have now erred in the other direction: in other words, without necessarily having any evidence of any kind, they now immediately suspend any priest accused, whether the accusations are believable or not. Innocent or guilty, this has often been enough to wreck his priestly ministry for ever: after all, everyone knows that there is no smoke without fire.

I know (as many of us do) that there has been a considerable number of false accusations, particularly when it has been possible to mount some kind of legal demand for compensation: where a priest is known to be wealthy, or to be a member of a wealthy family, this vile phenomenon has been particularly flagrant.

Such allegations have been concerned not only with the alleged sexual abuse of minors, but also with supposed sexual offences against adults. This is true also in the US, to which I will now confine my attention, since though, I repeat, I know of cases in England where this has happened, I don’t want to draw attention to them, for obvious reasons. However, an American priest, Fr John Corapi, has now drawn attention to his own case. Fr Corapi is well known, through his regular television and radio appearances, from speaking tours, and from his website, on which he has just posted the following cri de coeur:

A Call for Prayer

On Ash Wednesday I learned that a former employee sent a three-page letter to several bishops accusing me of everything from drug addiction to multiple sexual exploits with her and several other adult women. There seems to no longer be the need for a complaint to be deemed “credible” in order for Church authorities to pull the trigger on the Church’s procedure, which was in recent years crafted to respond to cases of the sexual abuse of minors. I am not accused of that, but it seems, once again, that they now don’t have to deem the complaint to be credible or not, and it is being applied broadly to respond to all complaints. I have been placed on “administrative leave” as the result of this.

I’ll certainly co-operate 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. I am not alone in this assessment, as multiple canon lawyers and civil and criminal attorneys have stated publicly that the procedure does grave damage to the accused from the outset, regardless of rhetoric denying this, and has little regard for any form of meaningful due process.

All of the allegations in the complaint are false, and I ask you to pray for all concerned. Fr Corapi.

There can be no doubt that false accusations of sexual offences against priests is a widespread phenomenon. Fr Z has drawn attention to a 10-page declaration recently submitted to the Los Angeles County Superior Court by the attorney Donald Steier, who has been involved in the investigation of over 100 cases of alleged clerical sexual misconduct, who has arrived at the conclusion that many of these accusations are fraudulent. Mr Steier says that “one retired FBI agent who worked with me to investigate many claims in the clergy cases told me, in his opinion, about one half of the claims made in the clergy cases were either entirely false or so greatly exaggerated that the truth would not have supported a prosecutable claim for childhood sexual abuse” [original emphasis].

Meanwhile, Fr Corapi has asked for our prayers, not only for him, but for his accuser. I have no way of knowing with any certainty whether her accusations are false or not. But true or false, we should pray not only for him, but for all those falsely accused, as well (of course) for genuine victims and their abusers.