Alleged David Haas sexual assault victim speaks out

Alleged David Haas sexual assault victim speaks out

David Haas in a concert at the Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines. Credit: Titopao/wikimedia. CC BY SA 4.0
David Haas in a concert at the Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines. Credit: Titopao/wikimedia. CC BY SA 4.0

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In late May, allegations surfaced against contemporary Catholic musician and composer David Haas, which claimed that Haas had subjected multiple adult women to serial spiritual manipulation and sexual misconduct.

A former music and youth minister, who alleges that Haas aggressively kissed and groped her when she was 19, spoke to CNA this week about her experience. And one expert told CNA that the allegations against Haas point to the difficulties of ensuring that laity working in Church contexts are trustworthy, and beyond reproach.

Sidney

Sidney*, a California native, told CNA that she has worked in close proximity to the Church for more than 15 years, primarily in religious education, as a youth minister, and as a music minister.

It was through her interest in music ministry that she met David Haas, when she was 14 years old.

Haas was then, and remains to this day, one of the best-known contemporary Catholic composers, having written such contemporary standards as “Glory to God,” “You are Mine,” “We are Called,” and “Blest are They,” among others.

In 2002, Sidney was selected to attend a well-known music ministry camp in St. Paul, Minnesota called Music Ministry Alive (MMA). The weeklong camp brought in around 150 participants from around the country and featured workshops, peer groups, and a concert at the end of week, which Haas headlined.

“It was very clear that this was [Haas’] program,” Sidney said.

“He was not absent in any way— he was present for as many rehearsals as was possible, he would drop in when we were in workshops or peer groups, at the end of the evenings when we would do our evening check-ins he was around, he was seated with people during mealtimes,” she recalled.

At the same time, Sidney observed that Haas was a physical person. She emphasized that physical touching she observed throughout the camp did not appear to be criminal, but in hindsight certainly was problematic.

“There was a lot of touching, putting his hands on your shoulders, hugs— things that weren't exactly criminal but were, looking back, notable, and what we [now] know to be grooming patterns," she said.

A few years later, at age 19, Sidney attended the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress (LAREC) in Anaheim, California. Haas was there, and after he gave a workshop, the two struck up a conversation.

Sidney said Haas asked about her life, and whether her job was compensating her fairly. At the time, Sidney was struggling financially. Haas hinted that he might want to offer her some help, she told CNA, and asked to meet with her later. So Sidney agreed to meet him outside the convention center after dinnertime.

As the two chatted and walked outside the convention center, Sidney said they ended up toward the back of the convention center where there were loading docks and benches.

As they sat down, Sidney told CNA, Haas suddenly kissed her aggessively and groped her chest. As she tried to pull away, Haas attempted to pull her head onto his shoulder, Sidney said.

Sidney was scared. She was in a relatively isolated place with a much older and larger man.

“I tried to express my discomfort, but in a way that I would be safe,” she said.

“So I probably went along with it a little longer than I would have liked, and then I asked to leave, and he took my arm and walked with me back to where we had originally had met."

She said as she took leave of him, he kissed her again, on the mouth. He also gave her his cell phone number and told her which hotel he was staying in, inviting her to visit his room at any point during the conference, she said.

This invitation struck Sidney as odd— partly because it was so obviously wrong, and crossed a boundary, but also because she knew that Haas generally travelled with his wife.

Sidney says she immediately reported what had happened to her, to a priest as well as to a friend and mentor who was a mandated reporter. She doesn't believe her complaint went anywhere— if it did, she said she never heard anything more about it.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles told CNA in a statement Thursday that it is “investigating allegations of sexual misconduct described in recent media reports involving” Haas.

The archdiocesan Office of Victims Assistance Ministry, which receives reports of misconduct, has no prior record of reports of sexual misconduct against Haas, the archdiocese stated.

However: “As part of the current investigation, the Archdiocese is looking into a past complaint of inappropriate interaction and/or communication by Mr. Haas with an adult woman and how it was handled,” the statement read. 

Sidney told CNA that for the next few years, after that first encounter at LAREC, she made a point of trying to avoid Haas, but she said because of the nature of their professions, and because they had mutual colleagues and friends, their paths did cross again several times.

Haas repeatedly ‘friended’ Sidney on Facebook during this time, she said, even after she deleted him as a friend, and he occasionally sent personalized cards to her home address.

In 2014, at a national conference in San Antonio, Haas was staying in the same hotel as Sidney. She said she kept running into him during the conference, and that he cornered her on several occasions, pressuring her to meet with him one-on-one.

Sidney agreed to meet Haas in a public setting.

As they talked, Haas asked Sidney if she was seeing anyone, and she told him that she was dating her now-husband.

"The word I would use is that he became 'irate.' He was extremely upset by that,” Sidney told CNA.

“Mind you, he doesn't know my husband, he's never met the man...it was very out of character. There was no reason that he should have not been anything but thrilled for me."

He also invited Sidney to breakfast, and implied that publishers and other people whom Sidney might want to meet and network with would be present at the breakfast. Sidney agreed because of the potential networking opportunity.

"When I showed up, it was actually just the two of us. So I was very uncomfortable," she said.

“Well, that's just the way he is”

Sidney later secured a high-level ministry position at a major archdiocese. At that job, Haas’ name occasionally came up as a possible ministry collaborator.

Sidney said she made it clear to her colleagues that she believed Haas did not have good boundaries, and that she knew of— without going into detail— instances in which he had behaved inappropriately.

“And I was basically told: 'Well, that's just the way he is,'” Sidney said.

It was widely known in that office, Sidney said, that Haas crossed boundaries. And this was discussed in that office setting, and subsequently brushed off, she said.

“It's difficult for me to know that there are people that I'm working with that are abusing that privilege that we have, because we have an immense amount of privilege as catechetical leaders, and we have to recognize our privilege and recognize that it is a privilege to be in these positions,” Sidney said.

“We're entrusted with quite a lot. We need to also acknowledge our position of power, and that we do exercise power over those that we serve. And we have to be extremely careful in our boundaries and how we interact with others."

Sidney said others who attended the MMA camp the same year she did noticed what they later realized was grooming behavior by Haas at MMA. She also said that a friend of hers has also made allegations against Haas.

Sidney said since the allegations against Haas broke in late May, she has seen commenters online asking why the alleged victims did not speak out sooner.

"What I think people fail to understand is that many of these women did report this, and we just weren't heard, weren't listened to, we weren't believed,” she said.

“Because it was brushed off as 'that's just how he is,' or 'boys will be boys' or 'it's not that big a deal' or 'well, do you have any proof?' And when you say those things to victims, and to women, you're not validating their experience and you're essentially silencing them.”

Some Catholic commentators have debated in recent weeks the best course of action to take regarding Haas’ music, which is regularly played at hundreds of parishes nationwide, and around the world.

Sidney said, in her opinion, it would be best if Haas’ music is retired— there’s no way to know if the minister singing or someone in the congregation is someone who has been affected by Haas' actions, she said. 

“This is somebody who, in my opinion, has operated with flagrant disregard for the code of ethics that we hold ourselves to. And it's because of his— what I perceive to be— entitlement and disregard for that code of ethics that he's been able to get away with this brazen behavior for years,” Sidney told CNA.

In her view, Sidney said, when dealing with an accused individual, there needs to be prudence and due process, but when allegations are repeated over and over again, steps must be taken to temporarily remove that person from positions of spiritual influence, or at least limit their access while an investigation takes place.

When whispers or suspicions come to light, those need to be acted upon, she said.

"When you see behavior that is unbecoming of a minister, period— male or female, doesn't matter— you have a responsibility to hold that person accountable. So I think that men in particular need to hold other men accountable, and women need to continue to speak out and make it clear that certain behaviors are and are not acceptable."

Sidney has not yet made her identity known publicly; nor have most of the women who have spoken out so far.

She said some of Haas’ fellow composers are raising their voices against Haas’ alleged behavior, listening to the anonymous voices of survivors— in many cases, not realizing that some of the victims are people that they know personally.

Haas did not respond to CNA’s request for a response to Sidney’s allegations. He told CNA June 17 that he had no plans to comment on allegations against him beyond a public statement he had issued.

His June 16 statement said that: “David Haas denounces Into Account Inc.’s allegations as false, reckless and offensive. He is also sad and disappointed that Into Account Inc. chose to use social media- a public forum- to deprive him of a fair and legitimate venue to face his accusers, but instead launched a marketing effort with the mission to destroy his reputation and livelihood.”

“We have to be serious about that”

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, in which Haas resides, has moved to limit Haas’ influence in the archdiocese in the wake of the allegations, but also has highlighted the difficulty of dealing with a situation of a layperson, who is not employed by the Church, but nevertheless has allegations against them.

“The Haas matter illustrates the challenges of responding to allegations of inappropriate behavior by lay persons who work with Catholic groups, especially when they are self-employed,” the archdiocese said in a June 16 statement.

“We are committed to supporting anyone who has been harmed by persons of influence, prominence or power in our communities. At the same time, we recognize the importance of having a fair and appropriate forum that provides due process for those who have been accused.”

Ed Mechmann, director of the New York Archdiocese’ safe environment office, confirmed to CNA that the arena of accused laypeople in the Catholic Church is a very problematic one, because "there's no national license for being a 'good' Catholic, or an 'acceptable' Catholic."

For an employee, obviously there can be adverse employment action taken, he said. For people such as Haas, who operate as independent contractors or run their own entity, it’s different.

"If it's music ministers, speakers, mission directors working the circuit, the only thing to do is exclude them,” Mechmann told CNA.

“And people don't have a right to be in Catholic organizations, or in front of Catholic parishes. They don't have a right to do that, it's a privilege. And if we're going to protect people, we have to be serious about that."

In his work as a safe environment coordinator, Mechmann said dioceses generally try to avoid "blacklists," both for laypeople and for clerics.

Instead, he said, music ministers or Catholic authors on the speaking circuit could get a certificate from their home diocese, good for six months, to say there are no allegations of misconduct against them.

Some dioceses ask for letters of good standing, he said, for laypeople, but in his opinion even that course of action is relatively rare.

If an individual diocese is not willing to share information on laypeople, or if dioceses do not inquire about laypeople, he said, then laypeople can be moved around, “shuffled,” as were priests before the norms of 2002 Dallas Charter changed diocesan practices. 

In Mechmann’s opinion, laypeople should be held to the same standards as priests, because right now, he said, priests are held to a higher standard than laypeople.

But, it all comes back to the willingness of the layperson's home diocese or parish to share information, and dioceses may be worried about defamation suits, he said.

"Unless we implement some kind of systematic 'good standing' certification for people who are going into other dioceses from their home diocese, there's not going to be a good solution for this."

Change would require activism and insistence on some new policies by Catholic laity, he said.

Music publisher GIA said in a June 13 Facebook post that it learned about allegations of sexual misconduct “early this year” and has suspended” its sponsorship and publication of Haas’ work. On June 15, hymnal publisher OCP said it too would cut ties with Haas.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis told CNA that it received allegations of misconduct against Haas in both 2018 and 1987. In 2018, two women told the archdiocese that the composer had “acted inappropriately” with them, and in 1987, the archdiocese “had received a complaint alleging that David Haas had made an unwelcomed sexual advance toward a young adult woman.”

The archdiocese said Haas has denied those allegations, but, “following the 2018 complaints, the Archdiocese informed Mr. Haas that the Archdiocese would not provide him with a letter of recommendation that he had requested.”

“Furthermore, the Archdiocese advised Mr. Haas that he was not allowed to provide services at Catholic institutions in the Archdiocese without disclosure of the complaints made against him,” archdiocesan spokesman Tom Halden added.

“It got worse”

A woman named Maria* told CNA that allegations against Haas fit a pattern that seems familiar to her.

In 1980, Maria was a freshman at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Haas was in his early 20s and a student at the minor seminary.

Maria told CNA that Haas invited her to dinner in the fall of 1980, ostensibly to discuss music ministry. She had recently attended a music workshop that he had put on in St. Paul, and he had reached out to her directly by phone, she says.

She says during the evening Haas professed love for her, and that while he was driving after dinner, he refused to bring her back to her dormitory when she asked him to repeatedly, taking her instead to a second restaurant for dessert, despite her continued requests to be taken home.

Maria alleges that Haas tried to hold her back when she eventually did get out of his car, insisting on a kiss goodnight.

In later weeks, she says Haas pursued her with love notes and tried to meet with her one-on-one, even while he knew she was dating a man she eventually married. She says she rebuked his advances, "but it could have gone bad fast if I hadn't seen the writing on the wall," Maria told CNA.

When the Into Account allegations came to light in May, Maria says she began to reassess what had happened to her. He had taken her out under false pretenses— using his position as a music minister to get her to agree to meet him— and would not allow her to leave the situation, she said.

Maria also remembers hearing rumors that other members of the choir in which she participated in college— which Haas helped to lead— had experienced similar “dates” with Haas.

She said she hopes her story might inspire other women from that choir to come forward with their own allegations.

"[The allegations] didn't surprise me, frankly, but it just made me really sad that this seems to be at least a 40-year pattern of behavior, and that it got worse," she said.

Maria said she is not a vengeful person, and that her life today is very happy. But it bothers her greatly, she said, that Haas appears to have used his position of authority to cause harm to some young, vulnerable women over the years.

"It's no different to me than the priest scandal, except that he's not a priest," she commented.

Haas did not respond to CNA’s request for a response to Maria's allegations.

Maria said she has told the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis about the incident, and that she hopes they will use her information as part of an investigation into Haas’ misconduct.

Several other Catholic entities have sought to suspend or sever ties with Haas in recent weeks because of the allegations.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles told CNA that Haas is not authorized to perform in the archdiocese pending the outcome of its investigation.

“The Archdiocese stands against any sexual misconduct and is resolute in our support for victim-survivors of abuse,” a statement sent to CNA said, adding that anyone with information regarding the matter can report to the Office of Victims Assistance Ministry.

“I need to repent, and seek forgiveness”

Haas has spoken in the past about his struggles with mistreatment of others.

Onstage during a 2019 session at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress— before any public allegations of misconduct came to light— Haas spoke candidly about his struggles with anger, and his desire to seek God's forgiveness.

"If we're going to be peacemakers, it means that we try with all of our heart and soul to disengage of any kind of violence— physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological...We need to use every spiritual power we can access through the power of the spirit of God to not take part and to not promote such behavior. Now, I violate these principles all the time, and every time I do, I need to repent, and seek forgiveness," Haas said during the session.

"I need to ask for forgiveness, not only of God, but also from those who I've harmed. Jesus asks a lot of us Christians. And there are many times I know I want to lash out, seek revenge, and I'm deeply ashamed to admit that I can be a terrible gossip. And while I've never taken part in any violent act, when I search my heart, there are times when I know I want to punish others."

Haas said he was working to "recommit" himself to "soften the hateful, angry, and violent thoughts that sometimes fill my mind."

*Sidney and Maria both asked CNA for anonymity to avoid potential retaliation from Haas, professionally, and from the public.

Tags: Sexual Abuse, Catholic News, David Haas

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