Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Fr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde

So now we have the truth about Fr. Corapi, and English Catholics are dealing with the truth about a well known and much loved priest, Fr. Kit Cunningham. Fr. Kit appeared to be a 'lovable eccentric' who did much good and hob nobbed with all the media types in London. Turns out when he was a young priest working in a school in Africa he molested little boys and then helped cover up his crimes and the crimes of his fellow priests at the school. You can read about it here if you have a strong stomach.

There is shock and horror all around, and the usual bleating from the faithful, "How could it be true! He baptized my children! He was so delightful! He was such a great preacher! He was always kind to the poor! He was one of the best priests I've ever known!" Then there is the denial, "Those accusers must be exaggerating! There is a sinister plot! It's the bishop's fault! He has it out for Father Sliptalot! We mustn't judge before Fr. Foolabout has a chance to answer for himself! He never really took a vow of poverty anyway! That woman he was with--he was counseling her! That's all! She is a crazy drunk and addict! Those men who remember being molested--that sort of thing went on in boarding schools! It's no big deal! The other priests are jealous of Father Jekyll."

I don't understand how people, who are otherwise pretty canny professionals, seem to understand so very little about male psychology. Why is it possible for Fr. Jekyll to turn to the dark side and become the monster Mr. Hyde? It's because men have that membrane between the two lobes of their brain that allows them to compartmentalize stuff. Men can be objective and separate out different parts of their existence and behavior. This allow us to concentrate better than women, but not to multi task as well as women. It also allows us to get on and do nasty things if we have to without being emotionally involved. So the male hunter has to get food for his family and he sees mama deer with Bambi. He shoots them both and brings home the bacon. A woman would cry and say, "But you can't shoot that darling little fawn while he's nursing his mama!!" Bang! "Fuhgeddaboudit. I gotta eat" says the brute.

The same ability to compartmentalize allows a man to wear a uniform and play a role in society more routinely and effectively than a woman. Most men do this all the time without thinking. Dad puts on a business suit and goes out into the world to do business with his business persona firmly in place. Dad puts on his work clothes, his uniform, his persona and gets on with the job. This does not mean that he is always a fake and that his work does not involve his personality or that he is some sort of automaton. It's just that one part of his brain is kicking in and the other parts of him are blocked. He's compartmentalizing.

A priest has to do this big time. He's always putting on a uniform. He wears the clericals. He wears a cassock. He puts on vestments for the liturgy. As he does so he enacts the part of the priest. He's doing his job. This does NOT mean he's a phony. It doesn't mean he's not real or not a good man or not a good priest. It's simply part of the job. However--should that man be struggling with a dark side of his personality the uniform and playing the part of the priest can become an alternative reality. He can start believing that the holy priest he is presenting to the world is actually the same as his real personality. In other words, if a priest is struggling with some dark secret, then the alternative priestly persona becomes a secure refuge, and the darker and more obscene the secret, the more perfect the priestly persona has to be. See how it works?  The worse my dark secret, the better I have to pretend on the outside to show everyone (and especially myself) what a good person I am. That's why the ones who crash and burn are always, "The best priest I have ever known!"

Meanwhile the poor guy is compartmentalizing like mad. He's pushing away all the dark stuff, not dealing with it, denying it ever happened or saying, "I slipped up. It won't happen again." He locks it all down and keeps up the show. Unfortunately, his religious superiors, his parishioners, colleagues, family and friends too often collude with the deception because they also want to believe that Father Wonderful really is as wonderful as he appears. So they overlook the danger signs as 'little foibles' or 'obvious faults'. They did this with Fr. Cunningham (who I knew from my time in England). He was (in my experience) a leery, rather creepy drunkard and snob who was involved much too closely with the secretary of the parish. But everyone said, "He was a benevolent and boozy old coot who had a roguish eye for the ladies." Seems he had an eye for the laddies as well.

He (and his order) were compartmentalizing big time and so you end up with Fr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Do you remember that scene in C.S.Lewis' The Great Divorce? A large, pompous fellow (I forget his name--call him Stanley) is talking to the shade of his wife and he's playing the great dramatic scene of self pity and self importance. Meanwhile the wife (who is a humble soul) is talking to a little dwarf that the big man Stanley holds on a chain. The pompous fool says to her, "Don't talk to him. Talk to me my darling!" She replies that the dwarf is who she wants to talk to because it is the real Stanley. The pretend Stanley had taken over and the real Stanley was shrinking. Finally the fake Stanley give a final pull on the chain and the real Stanley disappears forever. So it is when a false persona takes over the real person.

Please don't get me wrong folks. I'm not saying all priests are like this. I'm simply saying that some are, (just like many lay people are) and when this twisted dynamic of compartmentalizing and faking it takes over (no matter who it is) things gets very messy for everyone. Also, please understand that while some people do this big time, many more do it on a lesser scale. Other men do it for a time, and then get over it and grow up.

What makes it all the more complicated is that the priest really is supposed to grow out of himself and 'grow up into the full stature of Christ  Jesus'.  We really are supposed to fill the vestments and become the 'alter Christus' that we are called to be. To do this we have to pretend sometimes. We have to try hard by God's grace. We stumble and fall and get up again, but what we can't do is compartmentalize our dark side, deny our wrongdoing and justify our sin. That way lies destruction.

Instead, like all of God's children, we priests have to acknowledge our sin, turn to Christ, plead for mercy and allow God's grace to somehow work that transformation in our souls before Mr. Hyde takes over and Fr. Jekyll disappears forever.


  1. I did not now this. It makes such sense. I think that is what is missing in the culture of the day; just plain ol' sense.
    We don't need celebrity priests; high-brow clergy, even lay people who think they have crossed every liturgical 't' and dotted every 'i' in the mystery of faith! We need to get back to the simple, the way of the saints who really show us the road to salvation, only too often we ignore them for the popularity of those who are here with us now.
    How often they let us down. All we can do is pray. And never stop.

  2. Oh how well I know it! Very good analysis. I think a lot of us men can relate to what you say.

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  4. This is an excellent post. I cannot say more.

  5. These stories are demoralizing, to say the least. In spite of all the scandal surrounding the priesthood in the last twenty years, there are still too many people who place priests on pedestals.

    I appreciate your thoughtful post, Father.

  6. "No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true."

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

  7. Many years ago, I studied psychology and one of the few concepts that I still recall( because I knew that I indulged in it myself) is 'rationalisation'. Finding persuasive reasons to excuse yourself for behaviour that you know to be wrong/sinful. Once you begin to rationalise, you can end up in big trouble because you can often use the same reasoning (e.g. obedience to superior orders, the unusual pressures associated with fame etc.) to excuse yourself for more and more extreme behaviour until the excuse fits every sin and failing which are no longer 'my fault' but due entirely to external pressures.

  8. I am deeply saddened by this news, and commit Fr. Corapi to my prayers.

  9. Thank you Father for such a clear-thinking essay. I am so sad about this whole saga and I feel so stupid.It really wasn't his CDs that were helping me through some rough patches, it was truly our Merciful Lord who just wanted me to come home. As he said, "There will be many false prophets".

  10. Thank you Father, for the most clear explanation I have read of this sad news. Years ago I watched a very funny video online of an explanation between men's and women's brains. Men's brains are composed of many little boxes that never touch each other, and include one that contains nothing, so men can say truthfully that they are thinking of nothing. It was a hilarious presentation but your thoughts make perfect sense in light of this video. We lay people need to pray daily for priests and have Masses offered for them, because the Devil, like a roaring lion, prowls about the world...especially to ruin our clergy and scandalize the faithful.

  11. I think this is a crummy argument and that you have done a great disservice to men, a bad as we already appear to women (who already think we have too many pat "explanations") and to society as a whole. Thanks a heap.

  12. Mycroft, don't be so pessimistic. I'm not talking about the ability to compartmentalize. That's actually a masculine strength as I pointed out.

    I'm talking about when it goes wrong and becomes sick, and I made it clear that I was not talking about all priests or all men.

  13. Very interesting, but what does it have to do with Fr. Corapi? Fr. Corapi doesn't compartmentalize. He is very clear about who he was, who he is at the moment (by the grace of God), and who he could be at any moment if he doesn't avail himself of that grace. I have heard him say many times that he fights the fight every day and that we could find him dead one day in a crack house but for God's grace.
    Also, what makes you think you now know the truth about Fr. Corapi? Surely you can't be referring to that hit piece by Fr. Sheehan from SOLT? You should read Bishop Rene Gracida's comments on this hit piece which he published yesterday. Bishop Gracida was one of the best bishops we have had in the last 30 years or so. He was the bishop of Corpus Christi who established SOLT in his diocese. In my opinion, he has more character and credibility than anyone else associated with this matter.
    As for Fr. Sheehan - just about a week ago he claimed that they were impeded from getting information because of Fr. Corapi'lawsuit and the investigation was terminated when Fr. Corapi submitted his resignation. At the time he expressed regret about Fr. Corapi's decision and said they would support him in this transition while taking care to protect his good name (NCR). Now a week later they claim to have all this information, declare him unfit to be a priest,and post all these awful things about him which absolutely destroy his good name. Whether they are true or not - Fr. Sheehan has seriously violated the Eighth Commandment. The things he said about Fr. Corapi were not things that should have been made available to anyone who didn't have a need to this information. He has damaged Fr. Corapi's good name. The matter is grave. If Fr. Sheehan had sufficient reflection and full consent of his will then he committed a mortal sin. It is interesting that he posted that piece and within the hour became unavailable for the next 18 days. There is much more to this. If you think you now know the truth you are sadly mistaken.

  14. "But you can't shoot that darling little fawn while he's nursing his mama!!" Bang! "Fuhgeddaboudit. I gotta eat" says the brute.

    Gave me a good hearty laugh. Thank you Father.

  15. Anonymous3:44 PM


    You wrote in part:

    "So now we have the truth about Fr. Corapi"

    However the key sentence in the SOLT statement is:

    "SOLT's fact-finding team has acquired information from Fr. Corapi's e-mails, various witnesses, and public sources that, together, state that, during his years of public ministry"

    Curiously SOLT did not state whether the "acquired information" is true. Nor did SOLT mention if Corapi was guilty of the original accusations. Nor did SOLT indicate whether Corapi had admitted guilt to either the original or the subsequent accusations. I am also unaware of any judicial finding in this case either Church or civil.

    I find myself most uncomfortable with this situation.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  16. Is it possible for a woman to have a male brain, or vice versa ? I'm asking because basically every time I read a description of "how men think vs. how women think" I pretty much always identify with the male side of things. ( I am straight, BTW.)

  17. Richard- who is compartmentalizing now? It's pretty hard to say that, after examining the e-mails of a priest and finding sexting images of himself sent to the accuser, that he isn't guilty of at least some level of violation of his vows. Or, for that matter, his bank account. Will we ever know the full truth? I doubt it, but the truth we do know is enough to condemn him.

  18. Father, I have "known" you since I worked for Catholic Answers and read your excellent articles for "This Rock."

    I must say, I think you are a bit hard on males. Most people who know me only online assume I am a male--I jokingly say, it's because I am logical. There are very real differences between men and women, but I think the Casey Anthony case proves that many women can also "compartmentalize." And I am quite sure that ALL human baings can rationlize virtually ANYTHING they do.

    I, too, don't think the Fr. Corapi story is over. If the allegations are true, I imagine they have more to do with drug relapse, coupled with a shameful lack of oversight by superiors. I do wonder what happened in the past few weeks that allowed SOLT to reach a definitive conclusion about the accusations, since Fr. Sheehan made it clear that the investigation had no so much as assessed the credibility of the accuser at last report.

    In any case, I appreciate the realism and humor in your article. The fact is, none of us, male or female, is immune from a fall from grace, and we all stand in need of prayer.

  19. Anonymous6:50 PM

    "and finding sexting images of himself sent to the accuser"

    No. That claim did not appear in the SOLT statement.

    "that he isn't guilty of at least some level of violation of his vows."

    Corapi has taken no vows.

    "Or, for that matter, his bank account."

    Nor did SOLT in its Statement claim to have accessed Corapi's personal financial data.

    "Will we ever know the full truth? I doubt it"

    The defendants in Corapi's civil action will have to file a reply to each of his accusations unless they reach a prior agreement with Corapi. I imagine that SOLT, in justice, will be placed under enormous pressure to substantiate the non-accusations in its statement. We may very well learn a lot - more perhaps than we wish.

    "but the truth we do know is enough to condemn him."

    As followers of Jesus Christ we never condemn Corapi or Hitler or even the New York Yankees. Kindly note that Corapi has not admitted guilt to either the first set of accusations or the second set of "non-accusations". Nor has any authority, Church or civil found Corapi guilty of any charge or accusation.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  20. Very insightful as well as charitable. Thank you, Father! and may God bless and keep you.

  21. Mr. Comeford,
    "Father has taken no vows"? REALLY?
    He is a priest. All Catholic priests are required by Canon Law to live in simplicity, even if they don't take vows of poverty. Corapi's *known* lifestyle, as Fr. Longenecker is talking about, could hardly be called simplicity.

    What about that popular picture of him with the dead bear? It was taken, the story goes, at a posh hunting resort for the elites that he is a member of (the story at the time was that his membership was paid by benefactors).

    I'm sad that people are characterizing the SOLT statement as a "hit piece", determined to continue calumniating Fr. Sheehan in spite of protestations of "never criticize a priest" in Corapi's case.

    I can't believe people are still grasping at straws to defend this man and simultaneously condemn SOLT, Bishop Mulvey, etc. As for Bishop Gracida, also note that in the same blog post, Gracida insists it's been years since he's had direct contact with Corapi, contradicting Corapi's claim that he's following Gracida's advice. The rest of what Gracida says is rather scandalous--a retired bishop challenging the decisions of the current chancery and the superiors of the Society? Just diminishes my respect for Bishop Gracida.

    Fr. Longenecker,
    Thank you so much! This is a very good explanation, and it is indeed what all of us men do when we sin, whether priests or not.

    I call it the "Arthur Dimmesdale" syndrome.

  22. Anonymous9:22 PM

    "All Catholic priests are required by Canon Law to live in simplicity, even if they don't take vows of poverty."

    Canon 282 calls Diocesan priests to "Simplicity of life and aversion to vanity." However Corapi has not yet been accused by his Superior of failing to live simply.

    "Corapi's *known* lifestyle, as Fr. Longenecker is talking about, could hardly be called simplicity."

    This is what the lawyers call "hearsay". Others call "gossip".

    "What about that popular picture of him with the dead bear?"

    There is something in Canon Law about dead bears too?

    "the story at the time was that his membership was paid by benefactors"

    I would not know. This "story" is hearsay or gossip. Corapi has not been accused of joining a club.

    The reason why there is due process in both Canon and Civil law is to prevent trial by rumor mongering.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  23. Whatever the truth is, and maybe only time will tell, or maybe we will never know, it doesn't alter the fact that Fr. Corapi has helped many people with his teachings, myself included. Whether some of his stories were true or not they got his point across, and that was what mattered. He was a gifted speaker - a little unorthodox, preaching orthodoxy - and I still hope things turn around for him.

  24. Mr. Comerford,

    You can't have it both ways. His superiors *have* accused him of living against a vow of poverty. You claim he doesn't have a vow of poverty. I say, "It doesn't matter; he's a priest, so he's bound to simplicity." Now you claim he's living in simplicity. Do you even know what simplicity means in the Church???

    How is an obviously dyed goatee hearsay? Dyed hair, esp. on a priest = vanity.

    How does a total of $3 million in lawsuit winnings, which is well documented, constitute hearsay?

    How does Corapi's own talk of travelling millions of miles with female employees constitute hearsay?

  25. Father Longnecker,
    Thank you for your insight. Aside from the right/left brain analogy, We lost a credible teacher of the faith, someone who seemed to articulate the understanding dynamics of the intricate pieces of mystical theology. He wasn't afraid to tackle the hard subjects, to arouse us out of our comfort zones, to shake us sometimes out of our complacency. He rooted for us, he wanted us to BE good Catholics who could defend the faith. He dispayed an authentic love of the Holy Eucharist, having the privalege to be ordained by our Holy Father. I wonder at what point did he begin to backslide personally. He apparantly had too much freedom without enough accountability or something that was able to sustain a double life. He had already had experienced the great fall, being homeless, loosing everything, had been there and done that(it seemed). So why go back? Why return to an end so barren? So we were convinced he never wanted to put his hands in those fires again. He seemed at times he was preaching to always confirm this conviction to himself. He was piercing, and on Sunday nights on EWTN I used to receive an hour shot of anti-relativism that would help me in a world of watered down Christianity and Catholicism. I am very sad for him personally, and for all of those who benefitted from his ministry. I have lost a hero in my life, one of several actually lately. I listened as the scandals were braking and Father Corapi spoke with such profound emotion saying that it was personal to him and that he wanted to work hard to pray and sacrifice for his fallen brethern. It is becoming so painfully clear that any of our hero's can fall, any blessed one. The lesson for me is to stay rooted in the truth, the scriptures, and recognize that we do have to pray for all those deceived by the devil. He IS all the things described by Father Corapi as relayed in the scriptures. We as laity need to pray for the grace to remain rooted in our faith, pray for our own daily conversions, and pray for our fallen priests, brothers and sisters. We are living in a time of great sensory temptation. Us laity need to reinstitue prayer rooms, or corners where we gather to pray, to intercede and when we fall, have the courage to confess our own sins, the things we hide from God too. God is not finished with Father Corapi, I pray though one thing. A friend of mine 60 years of age with a brillant mind, many difficulties in his life including a 4th failed marriage, suprizingly took a gun and shot himself. The devil not only wants to take this priest down, I believe he wants to bring him to despair ultimately and take him out. Please pray for the protection from Heaven so that God can work with the soul of this priest who needs healing and an experience of God's love. I pray also that God will send help to all those who faith in God has been shaken by this fallen pastor....

  26. John, you seem a little fixated on Corapi's beard. ;-) As I said in another thread, I was once monstrously distracted during a homily by a presumably holy abbot who was wearing a very bad toupee. I didn't think his faculties should be suspended.

    This kind of nitpicking criticism is what drives good priests crazy. The laity feel free to scrutinize and comment on EVERYthing Father Whoever does. It's a wonder we HAVE any priests.

  27. Anonymous12:20 AM

    "His superiors *have* accused him of living against a vow of poverty."

    No. They have not.

    "You claim he doesn't have a vow of poverty."

    SOLT claims that Corapi has not taken any vows nor has any of its other members.

    "How is an obviously dyed goatee hearsay? Dyed hair, esp. on a priest = vanity."

    I do not follow the color of a man's hair. More importantly he has not been accused of misconduct in this matter.

    "How does a total of $3 million in lawsuit winnings, which is well documented, constitute hearsay?"

    I have not seen the judgement. An alleged award of $3-million does not mean that there has actaully been a payout. If there was an award in that amount and there was a pay out then normally 1/3 would go to the lawyers. 1/3 to the IRS and 1/3 to the plaintiff. And what Corapi did with his alleged award I have no idea and it is none of my business.

    "How does Corapi's own talk of travelling millions of miles with female employees constitute hearsay?"

    You mean like the Holy Fathers who are attended by Nuns? Yeah, lot of gossip about those situations too.

    Again the reason there is due process in Canon Law is to prevent trial by gossip.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  28. Father, well written, but I would say the second-last paragraph is the most important part, especially the first two sentences. Modern priesthood in North America assumes a culture of therapy and wellness which implies that when the priest is not 'on duty' he puts his feet up and becomes just like everybody else. Unfortunately for him ('unfortunately' if that is what he wants) he is never 'off duty'. The laborer or office worker can indulge his vices in his home, but the priest cannot.

  29. Dear Padre,
    Quick correction:

    You wrote: “That's why the ones who crash and burn are always, ‘The best priest I have ever known!’”

    This is not true, many maybe most of accused priests were more often than not theological liberals. This was due in large part to widespread homosexuality that pervaded many rectories. The incompatibility between the homosexual lifestyle and Catholic moral teaching led many priests down the road to dissent. The truth is bad priests are usually those who teach and preach badly, live their “vocation” in a 9 to 5 fashion, and are more interested in worldly things than Catholic virtue.

    Good Day