A nationally televised Roman Catholic priest who has been embroiled in sexual misconduct allegations has bewildered his followers by saying that he is leaving the priesthood.
The Rev. John Corapi, who is a member of the Robstown, Texas-based Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity order of priests, posted a video on his website late Friday in which he said that there are "persons in authority in the Church that want me gone." The 64-year-old also blasted church officials for their "fatally flawed" handling of allegations against him.
Corapi is a celebrity among devoted Catholics for his appearances on Eternal Word Television Network, a globally broadcast Catholic TV and radio network. A traveling preacher, his appearances at Catholic conferences are known to draw upwards of 10,000 fans each.
Corapi, who railed against liberal movements within the church, gained the empathy of many fans with his unusual conversion story. Once a prominent and wealthy real estate agent in Los Angeles, he saw his riches crumble because of cocaine addiction and ended up homeless for three years before checking into a psychiatric facility. He decided to turn his life around in 1984, later enrolled in seminary and was ordained as a deacon in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1990. He was ordained as a priest a year later by Pope John Paul II.
Now based in Montana, he worked as a priest in Sacramento, Calif., Hudson, N.Y., and Robstown, Texas, but was best-known for his television ministry, where he would commonly use military imagery to describe his faith. "My mother [Mary] wears combat boots," the former U.S. army enlistee would often say in his sermons.
Speculation over Corapi's future had mounted since he was suspended from his religious order in March after one of his female employees accused him of sexual misconduct. Corapi denied the allegations, but suffered a blow when the Catholic television network that beamed his conservative sermons to millions of viewers also suspended his appearances pending an investigation by his religious superiors. Irondale, Ala.-based EWTN reaches 146 million subscribes in dozens of countries.
In an eight-minute audio statement uploaded to YouTube, Corapi stressed that he is innocent, but indicated frustration with a church judicial process that he saw leading to "[leaving] me suspended indefinitely and just [letting] me fade away."
"You are for all practical purposes assumed guilty until you can prove you are innocent. This one is truly baffling. No civilized society operates that way," he said in the statement.
"I accept moving on, but I am not ready to be altogether extinguished just yet," Corapi added. He said he will continue to write and speak publicly on "broader" topics under the name "The Black Sheep Dog." He also announced an autobiography that is "almost ready for publication."
Ever since his suspensions, fans have waged an aggressive campaign to reinstate the priest, whose "Father Corapi and the Catechism of the Catholic Church" show was among the most popular in Catholic media. This weekend, they were reacting strongly to his departure from active ministry via blogs and social media, with condemnation, sorrow and support.
"A lot of people are shaken, especially conservatives -- they idolized him," said Deacon Greg Kandra of the Diocese of Brooklyn, who has followed developments on Corapi through on his blog, The Deacon's Bench. "He's very orthodox, extremely conservative. He has professed a great devotion to the Blessed Mother and Padre Pio. He's not one of those people who goes for feel-good Catholicism."
Corapi did not reply to a request for comment left with the media company that distributes his sermons. A spokeswoman for EWTN and the vocations director for Corapi's religious order also did not reply to interview requests from The Huffington Post.
In March 18 statement, the Rev. Gerard Sheehan, a spokesman for the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, said that Corapi's suspension "in no way implies Father Corapi is guilty of the allegation" and that "the claim of misconduct does not involve minors and does not arise to the level of criminal conduct.” A day after, EWTN released a statement saying it stopped broadcasting Corapi's sermons because it has a policy of not broadcasting priests who have been suspended from ministry.