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Archive of June 20, 2011

Fr. Corapi's order 'saddened' by his choice to leave priesthood

Corpus Christi, Texas, Jun 20, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Father John Corapi's superiors confirmed and expressed grief over his decision to leave his order and the priesthood following allegations of misconduct.

We are “deeply saddened that Fr. Corapi is suffering distress” and “further saddened by Fr. Corapi’s response to these allegations,” said Fr. Gerry Sheehan, Regional Priest Servant of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.

In a June 20 statement, Fr. Sheehan said the order “will do all within its power to assist Fr. Corapi if he desires to seek a dispensation from his rights and obligations as a priest and as a professed member.”

The statement comes in response to Fr. Corapi's June 17 online announcement that he's leaving the priesthood and starting a new ministry under the name “The Black Sheep Dog.”

He explained that he feels unjustly accused, that the process of clearing his name has been too sluggish and that there are authorities in the Church who are intentionally trying to oust him.

His decision came while he was on administrative leave – which his religious superiors placed him on this past March – after a 3-page letter submitted by a former, unidentified female employee claimed that Fr. Corapi took part in sexual encounters with several adult women and engaged in habitual drug use.

Fr. Sheehan defended the suspension in his statement Monday, saying that “due to the gravity of the accusation,” Fr. Corapi was put on administrative leave “until such a time that the complaint could be fully investigated.”

However, in the midst of the investigation, the society received a letter from Fr. Corapi on June 3, “indicating that, because of the physical, emotional and spiritual distress he has endured over the past few years, he could no longer continue to function as a priest or a member.”

Fr. Sheehan clarified that the order “had not arrived at any conclusion as to the credibility of the allegations” and that Bishop of Corpus Christi William Mulvey advised the society to proceed with their own policies in the investigation as well as follow canonical procedures.

“We reiterate that Fr. Corapi had not been determined guilty of any canonical or civil crimes,” Fr. Sheehan said.

“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.”

“We request your prayers and the intercession of the Blessed Mother for the healing of Fr. Corapi and for any who have been negatively affected by Fr. Corapi’s decision to end his ministry as a priest and a member” of the society, he said.

Corpus Christi diocesan spokesman Marty Wind also issued a statement June 20, saying the diocese “deeply regrets” Fr. Corapi's resignation.

Wind also said that the diocese is referring to the society from now on and won't comment on the details of the allegations.

“The investigation into the credibility of the allegations made against him was being conducted by his religious order,” Wind said, “and it would be inappropriate for the Diocese to make any comment on those proceedings other than that they were in progress.”

“We pray for the well-being of Fr. Corapi, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, and for the consolation of the many people that have been touched by his ministry over the years,” he added. “We also pray for those who have, in any way, been adversely impacted.” 

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Pope urges world leaders to embrace refugees

Vatican City, Jun 20, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict stressed the importance of global leaders welcoming refugees in light of recent violence that's displaced thousands of people in Africa and the Middle East.

“I invite the civil authorities and all people of good will to ensure refugees are welcomed and given dignified living conditions as they await the chance to return freely and safely to their own countries,” he said before praying the Angelus on Sunday.

World Refugee Day is celebrated annually on June 20.

The celebration this year coincides with the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the adoption of the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees.

Archbishop Antonio Maria Vegliò – head of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People – told Vatican Radio that the commission “has been assisting millions of refugees over the last 60 years.”

But refugees today face new challenges because of changes in political climates across the globe. “There is a hardening attitude of countries so that it seems that refugees are the problem and not the reasons why they have to flee,” the archbishop explained.

He referred to recent violence over political upheaval in Africa – including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Sudan – causing scores of people to flee their home counties. 

Archbishop Veglio said that more than one million people have fled Libya, with about 15,000 arriving in Italy, 290,000 in Tunisia, and 161,000 in Egypt.

He also spoke of the ongoing conflict in Abyei, Sudan, which has caused people to flee as well as “the situation in Darfur where hundred thousands are living in camps.”

The archbishop noted that in response, the Church has consistently worked to help refugees and the internally displaced through the help of local bishops' conferences, clergy and religious communities.

“In addition, Caritas, both at diocesan level or national level, is assisting in many different ways, from emergency aid to directly involved in managing refugee camps,” he said, adding that the charity also works in “counseling of traumatized refugees, and the reintegration of child soldiers” into society.

Despite neighboring countries struggling to accommodate refugees and victims of political violence, Archbishop Veglio insisted that closing borders “is not the answer.”

“Countries should guarantee the rights of the refugees and act according to the spirit of the 1951 Convention, to assist those in need, to welcome them, and treat them on the same level as citizens.”

Former U.S. ambassador Johnny Young, head of Migration and Refugee Services for the U.S. bishops, also spoke about World Refugee Day and urged the United States to maintain its role as a global leader in refugee protection.

“Without U.S. leadership, the situation for the world’s 15 million refugees would be much worse,” he said. “We must remain committed to refugee protection and to the U.S. refugee program, which saves thousands of lives each year.”

In his remarks, Young expressed support for the Refugee Protection Act, which was introduced in Congress last week by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). The proposed legislation would strengthen protections for refugees in the U.S.
         
“A large number of refugees rescued by our nation are themselves victims of terror and are in need of protection from such threats,” Young said. “We can ensure the integrity of the U.S. refugee program without sacrificing its vitality and capacity.”

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Researcher: Google queries on Catholic topics show major drop

Washington D.C., Jun 20, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - U.S. Google search queries on Catholic topics have dropped “significantly” in volume from 2004 to 2011 and are “perhaps disturbing evidence” about the intersection of faith and new media, a researcher on Catholic demographics says.

“Is this cause to panic? Certainly not. Should we be concerned? Yes,” said Mark M. Gray, a research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in Georgetown.

Gray created graphs from Google search statistics which used the term “Catholic” in them, such as “Catholic school,” “Catholic Church,” and “Catholic Charities.” The graphs show a continued linear decline downward since 2004. The search volume dipped below average in 2007.

“Americans are significantly less likely to search for anything Catholic than they were seven years ago,” he said at Nineteen Sixty-four, the research blog of CARA.

Declines are also evident in the U.K., Australia, Germany, Italy and Brazil.

Gray said his graphs represent the behavior of “millions of people (Catholic and non-Catholic) online.”

“These aren’t responses to polls or attitudes expressed in a focus group. These are real world observations. People are doing less of something and when that thing is ‘Catholic’ online we should wonder what the future is for Catholic new media.”

Analysis of the Google search patterns for queries about the NFL and the Fox television show “American Idol” show no generalized downturn, he added.

Gray said that Catholics appear to use the Internet to look up Mass times or to look up a Catholic charity after a disaster. They are more likely to say they have visited a website for their parish or a Catholic school than any other religious website, but these comprise only about five percent of all adults for a six month period.

Catholic search terms hit a low point each summer and peak in the weeks of Ash Wednesday and Christmas.

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Father Corapi’s Bombshell

Irondale, Ala., Jun 20, 2011 (CNA) - Father John Corapi, the popular Catholic evangelist, announced on June 17 that he would leave the priesthood and begin a new endeavor outside Church control — called “Black Sheep Dog” — focused on a “broader” message and a global audience.

Three months have passed since Father Corapi, a priest of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, was removed from public ministry by his order while it investigated allegations of misconduct leveled by one of his former employees.

Posted on YouTube and on the website of Santa Cruz Media, the company led by Father Corapi that distributes his bestselling catechetical materials, the announcement shocked his many supporters, some of whom had vented their anger at the priest’s religious superiors and at EWTN and other media outlets, which suspended his programs after the allegations against him became public.

Raising more questions than it answered, the message did not state the precise reason why Father Corapi chose to resign from the priesthood, rather than waiting for the outcome of SOLT’s investigation of the alleged misconduct.

However, Father Gerard Sheehan, regional priest-servant of SOLT and Father Corapi’s religious superior in the U.S., confirmed June 19 that the order’s investigation faced complications created by a civil suit filed by Father Corapi against the former employee who had accused him of sexual misconduct.

“When she left the company, she signed a contract that she would not reveal anything that happened to her while she was at Santa Cruz Media. Father Corapi paid her for this. Father was suing her for a breach of contract,” said Father Sheehan, though he did not specify why Father Corapi had initiated the non-disclosure agreement.

The civil suit against the former employee created a problem for SOLT investigators.

“In canon law, there can’t be any pressure on witnesses; they have to be completely free to speak. The investigation was compromised because of the pressure on the witnesses. There were other witnesses that also had signed non-disclosure agreements,” said Father Sheehan.

“The canon lawyers were in a difficult situation, and Father does have his civil rights and he decided to follow his legal counsel, which he had a right to do,” he said. “We tried to continue the investigation without speaking to the principal witnesses.”

The investigation was halted after Father Corapi “sent us a letter resigning from active ministry and religious life. I have written him a letter asking him to confirm that decision. If so, we will help him with this process of leaving religious life,” said Father Sheehan.

He expressed disappointment that Father Corapi chose not to remain in SOLT and to refuse the order’s invitation for him to live in community, leaving his Montana home. Father Sheehan said he had tried to arrange a meeting with Father Corapi before any final decision was announced, but had not heard back from him. Father Sheehan said that SOLT would issue a statement shortly.

“We wanted him to come back to the community, and that would have meant leaving everything he has. It would have been a drastic change for him,” Father Sheehan said. “We will continue to move pastorally and charitably, taking steps to protect his good name.”

Father Corapi’s YouTube message did not address his relationship with SOLT religious authorities. Though his statement reads “I love the Catholic Church and accept what has transpired,” it offered a conflicted message on the respect due the Catholic hierarchy.

On the one hand, Father Corapi affirmed the right of the bishops to implement new guidelines for addressing clerical misconduct. Yet, he persistently attacked the logic and integrity of those guidelines, and sharply criticized Bishop William Mulvey of Corpus Christi, Texas, for taking action to forcibly remove him from active ministry.

The YouTube announcement and a text version of his statement began with an acknowledgement that the upcoming Trinity Sunday, June 19, 2011, marked his “20th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood in the Catholic Church. For 20 years I was called ‘father.’”

Expressing his gratitude for ongoing expressions of support, the priest then stated: “All things change, only God stays the same, so I have to tell you about a major change in my life. I am not going to be involved in public ministry as a priest any longer. There are certain persons in authority in the Church that want me gone, and I shall be gone.”

Echoing themes repeated in recent Santa Cruz Media posts that asserted his innocence, questioned the motives of his accuser, and criticized recent Church policies that suspended priests from active ministry following allegations of misconduct, he presented himself as one of many priests victimized by disciplinary practices established after the 2002 clergy abuse crisis.

“For 20 years I did my best to guard and feed the sheep. Now, based on a totally unsubstantiated, undocumented allegation from a demonstrably troubled person I was thrown out like yesterday’s garbage,” he stated.

He provided few substantive details regarding his new Black Sheep Dog initiative, but sketched out an ambitious mission: “I shall continue, black sheep that I am, to speak; and sheep dog that I am, to guard the sheep — this time around not just in the Church, but also in the entire world,” he stated.

He confirmed plans to produce radio programs and publish books, including an autobiography <i>Black Sheep Dog</i>. His mention of the book’s imminent release suggested that his bombshell announcement had been planned for some time.

The announcement will likely prompt scrutiny of Father Corapi’s ties to the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT), the apostolic religious order he joined twenty years ago, and raise questions about whether SOLT superiors should have allowed him to live and work apart from his religious community.

In a previous interview with the Register, published after Father Corapi’s suspension, Father Sheehan implicitly acknowledged that the accused priest was not living in conformity with SOLT’s constitution, approved in 1994.

“The founder’s arrangement with Father Corapi was established before that time, when Father Flanagan believed that every mission should take care of its own needs,” noted Father Sheehan at that time. “Now, according to our constitution, a different way of life has been established for members. All the money we make is turned over to the society, which gives us an allowance.”

During that interview, Father Sheehan confirmed that SOLT had “begun to address the issues of members who joined the society before the new constitution. The society is moving to a more organized structural phase of its existence, with all the Church discipline that entails.” The implication of his remarks was that Father Corapi had not accommodated the discipline imposed by the new constitution.

Father Corapi’s status in the Diocese of Helena, the location of his home, also raised questions about his legal ability to exercise his ministerial priesthood. In the wake of his suspension, the chancellor of the Diocese of Helena, Father John Robertson, stated that “Father Corapi has a personal residence in Kalispell, Mont. He does not hold priestly faculties in the Diocese of Helena.”

Father Corapi’s YouTube statement did not address questions raised by these recent public disclosures. In the message, his ire was reserved for the Bishop of Corpus Christi.

“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.”
 
His remarks raised questions about the role of the bishop of Corpus Christi in the decision to place him on administrative leave. The motherhouse of SOLT is based in that diocese. In the wake of his suspension, Marty Wind, a diocesan spokesman said that his case was outside the jurisdiction of the diocese and that SOLT authorities had initiated the action to temporarily remove him from active ministry.

In his YouTube post, Father Corapi characterized the process that led to his suspension as “inherently and fatally flawed.” He added that “The case may be on hold indefinitely, but my life cannot be,” he said, implying that his decision to leave the priesthood and establish “Black Sheep Dog” was essentially forced on him.

The painful decision was guided by legal counsel, he said: “My canon lawyer and my civil lawyers have concluded that I cannot receive a fair and just hearing under the Church’s present process. The Church will conclude that I am not cooperating with the process because I refuse to give up all of my civil and human rights in order to hold harmless anyone who chooses to say defamatory and actionable things against me with no downside to them.”

Attempts to reach Father Corapi for comment were unsuccessful.

He used his statement of resignation as a forum for airing a range of objections regarding the U.S. bishops’ “zero tolerance” policy — though not all the concerns he outlined seemed directly applicable to his particular case.
 
But his statement did not explain why his case could not be resolved with the outcome of an investigation initiated by his religious superiors, andsuggested there may be other issues complicating a timely conclusion.

As with most of the recent posts regarding the allegations and suspension on his site and by Santa Cruz Media, this statement included a marketing pitch for his fans, who were encouraged to visit the Black Sheep Dog website: “I hope you stay with us and follow us into our new domain and name of ‘The Black Sheep Dog.’ Through writing and broadcasting we hope to continue to dispense truth and hope to a world so much in need of it.”

In his closing statement — where he signed off as “John Corapi (once called “father,” now ‘The Black Sheep Dog’),” he acknowledged that some supporters might turn their backs on him. But given the strong encouragement he received after his initial suspension, it is difficult to predict whether he will hold on to his many supporters — and even make new ones in his forthcoming “global” ministry outside Church supervision, Black Sheep Dog.

Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond writes from Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Published with permission from the National Catholic Register.

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Bishops lament prisoners killed in Venezuela

Caracas, Venezuela, Jun 20, 2011 (CNA) - The deaths of more than 30 inmates involved in confrontations with prison guards in northern Venezuela are the “fruit” of the government’s passive response to organized crime in the prison system, stated Venezuela's bishops.
 
Venezuelan authorities “have completely abandoned their responsibility to safeguard the lives and physical integrity of the prison population and have instead allowed the mafia and gangs inside prisons to arm themselves and operate openly …  and to exercise complete control inside these institutions,” said the Justice and Peace Committee of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference on June 17.
 
The bishops criticized the lack of response to the ongoing violence at El Rodeo Prison in the State of Miranda, where officials said 22 inmates have been killed in riots with prison guards since June 12. 
 
Venezuelan media reported that in addition to the riots at El Rodeo, 16 prison guards were wounded in violent clashes at the National Boliviarian Prison on June 17.

Violence apparently broke out after an additional 5,000 prison guards were sent in to maintain order. Family members complained the surge sparked a massacre inside the prison, but one government official said prison administrators were acting in accord with the Venezuelan constitution.
 
“This is not a massacre; it is an attempt to preserve the lives of those inside the prison,” the official said.
 
In their statement the bishops deplored the “indescribable conditions suffered by inmates in Venezuelan prisons,” and disputed government accounts on the number of those killed in the violent confrontations.
 
According to reports from family members, they noted, “37 inmates were killed and at least as many were injured.”
 
The bishops said government officials “must not abdicate their authority and obligation” to safeguard the rights and lives of the prison population. As long as the structural problems that are present in the Venezuelan system of justice are not resolved, “We will be condemned to repeat this situation of true horror” over and over again, they said.

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Nearly 20,000 priests expected to attend World Youth Day

Madrid, Spain, Jun 20, 2011 (CNA) - Nearly 20,000 priests are expected to accompany the young people attending World Youth Day 2011 in August, announced Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco of Madrid, Spain.
 
“To accompany young people in this great celebration with the Word and with the Eucharist and with devoted pastoral care is the great challenge and opportunity that (World Youth Day) gives us for the present and the future of the Church,” he stated.
 
Cardinal Rouco said numerous bishops and a “massive” number of priests from around the world are expected to attend the youth event taking place August 16-21 in Madrid. “The number of priests registered has surpassed 12,000 and we expect that number to reach 15,000-20,000,” he said during a Mass for the feast of Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest, celebrated in Spain on June 15.
 
Cardinal Rouco Varela recalled the long logistical and spiritual preparation for World Youth Day 2011, centered upon “the Cross of Christ, the Cross of the World Youth Days, and the Icon of the Virgin Mary at its side.” 
 
“The service of priestly ministry during the preparation has been essential, and during the event it will be even more so,” he added.

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