The tale of Fr. John Corapi might offer a warning against the “cult of personality.”
Fr. Corapi, 64, was ordained a priest by Blessed John Paul II 20 years ago after a successful career in real estate that ended in homelessness due to cocaine addictions. A well-known preacher, carried by Catholic outlets such as EWTN and Relevant Radio, he was suspended from his order, The Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT), this past March.
Allegations against him “for conduct not in concert with the priestly state or his promises as a member of a society of apostolic life” had been made by a female employee of the company that owns the rights to his media, Santa Cruz Media. (While SOLT is based in Corpus Christi, Texas, Santa Cruz is based in Montana, where Fr. Corapi has a home, and is an independent corporation.)
On June 17, Fr. Corapi issued a statement on YouTube (video) and one of his websites (http:’//theblacksheepdog.us), that he was “not going to be involved in public ministry as a priest any longer” and would stop using the title “Father.” He also claimed that he would not receive a “fair and just hearing” from the church.
He said he would continue his writings and radio work, although EWTN and Relevant Radio have pulled his programs.
This is not the place to ponder Fr. Corapi’s actions or plans. However, he has been a visible figure in the Green Bay Diocese. He has spoken here several times and his DVDs, especially on the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” have become fixtures in many parishes.
Fr. Corapi is a powerful speaker. He has drawn standing-room-only crowds. No doubt, many have found comfort and insights from his talks.
In some circles, he has also become “a personality,” cast in a certain heroic image and with a devoted group of followers.
It is human nature to be drawn to a powerful personality. St. Paul mentioned something similar in his First letter to the Corinthians: “For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ’ (1 Cor 1:11-12).
Many great figures in the church had larger-than-life personalities: from John the Baptist to Paul himself to Blessed John Paul II. They were charismatic. Something about them just drew people.
But that “something” was not themselves; rather it was the Holy Spirit who gave them the gifts that drew people so that those people might, in turn, discover Christ and spread the Gospel message.
That is the key that we might take from the Fr. Corapi incident: It is not the personality of any speaker that is important. No matter how wonderful their personal story, how well they speak, what temporal authority they might have, they are not to be the focus of attention. The creature is never as great as the creator, and the messenger must never be confused with the message.
The only personality we should follow is the one with the only message that is important: Jesus Christ.
God sent Christ into the world to redeem it and bring the good news of salvation. Christ, in turn, sends the Spirit to each of us in order to continue to spread that message “to the ends of the earth.”
Whenever we become focused on one messenger — other than Christ himself — no matter how much truth they seem to have, we must beware of the “cult of personality.” And we should remember what Paul told the Corinthians: “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Cor 4:20).