U.S. Roman Catholic churches have been severing ties with a prominent religious composer facing accusations of sexual misconduct and harassment from dozens of women.
About one-third of American archdioceses have pledged to stop playing liturgical music written by David Haas, a 63-year-old composer whose pieces have been sung in parishes across America for decades, The New York Times reported.
Thirty-eight women have come forward with accusations against Haas that include cyberstalking, forced kissing and groping, the Times reported. The allegations have been compiled by Into Account, a Kansas-based advocacy group that supports survivors of sex abuse in Christian contexts.
In late May, one of the organization’s leaders, Stephanie Krehbiel, alerted groups that have worked with Haas about the women’s allegations in a letter. The women’s stories suggest that Haas had abused his “professional and spiritual power” in Catholic musical circles to create conditions in which the women felt obligated to perform sexual favors in exchange for professional opportunities, Krehbiel alleged.
Some of the women described romantic relationships with Haas that felt consensual in the beginning but were then “marked by sudden, overwhelming sexual aggression” from the composer, Krehbiel wrote. Several others reported instances of unwanted physical touch. One woman claimed she was subjected to sexual battery by Haas when she was 19 and the composer was older than 50. Other women said they had been targeted with “aggressive, lewd propositions,” Krehbiel wrote.
“The shared goal of the individuals who have confided in us is to remove Haas’s access to the many forums in which he encounters potential victims,” the letter stated.
Many of Haas’s accusers were reportedly aspiring musicians who thought of him as a mentor. They have not filed criminal or civil lawsuits against the composer, The Times reported.
Jeanne Cotter, who was married to Haas for seven years, told The Times that the accounts of some of the women sounded similar to her own experiences with her ex-husband. Cotter said Haas forcibly kissed her when she was 16 and he was 24.
“He was able to draw around him a community that has enabled him,” Cotter said. “In the end, the faithful in the pews become a kind of victim because their trust has been betrayed.”
After initially denying Into Account’s allegations as “false, reckless and offensive,” Haas issued an apology on July 9 admitting that he had caused “great harm to a variety of people.” He said he was seeking “professional intervention and treatment” and pledged to make amends.
“I never, ever intended to hurt anyone. I realize now that even well-intentioned actions may have hurtful impact and consequences,” he wrote in a letter on his website.
“In offering this sincere apology, I realize many may assume that all allegations made against me are true,” he added. “I take this risk without hesitation, because I truly want to apologize for the harmful things I have actually done.”
What needs to change is the institutional church’s consecration and elevation of male power.
Jamie L. Manson, columnist for the National Catholic Reporter
Haas, a lay Catholic from Minnesota, is a well-known composer of contemporary Catholic music. He was part of a musical movement, sparked by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, that experimented with developing new kinds of liturgical music for Masses. Some of his frequently performed pieces are “Blest Are They,” “You Are Mine,” and “We Are Called.”
For over 30 years, Haas provided liturgical music at Catholic Masses, performed at concerts and taught at workshops. While his music is primarily sung in Catholic churches, it has also found its way into the hymnals of other Christian denominations.
His music is reportedly treasured in the progressive Catholic world, according to Jamie L. Manson, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter. Haas composed a refrain in celebration of Pride Month in 2019.
“His lyrics, so imbued with calls for love, justice and inclusion, earned him a place in the canon of luminaries of the Catholic reform movement,” Manson wrote in a June 30 op-ed.
In mid-June, the popular Catholic hymnal publisher GIA Publications announced that it was suspending its “sponsorship and publishing relationship” with Haas.
Days later, the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul, where Haas lives, revealed that it had received three earlier reports of inappropriate behavior by the composer ― two in 2018 and one that dates back to 1987. Haas had denied all three of these accusations, the archdiocese said.
Despite knowing about the 1987 allegation, the archdiocese didn’t prevent Haas from creating a liturgical music camp for youth and adult leaders at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. The camp, called Music Ministry Alive, met annually from 1999 to 2017.
After receiving the 2018 complaint, the archdiocese said it told the composer he wasn’t allowed to provide services at its institutions without disclosing these complaints. The archdiocese said it also declined to provide Haas with a letter of recommendation that he had requested.
After receiving additional reports of misconduct from women, Archbishop Bernard Hebda announced on July 8 that Haas was banned from giving presentations at its institutions. Hebda banned Haas’s music from being played at Masses. The archdiocese also alerted Catholic archbishops across the country about the allegations. At least 10 archdioceses have reportedly asked its parishes not to play Haas’s music, including Boston, St. Louis, and Los Angeles, America’s largest archdiocese.
St. Catherine University also sought to distance itself from Haas, saying in a statement that the composer had never been a staff or faculty member and that Music Ministry Alive was an independent organization. The university said it is investigating its history with Haas.
Manson compared the allegations surfacing against Haas to the controversy surrounding another celebrated lay Catholic, Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche International, a global charity supporting adults with intellectual disabilities. After his death last year, L’Arche reported that Vanier had coercive sexual relationships with six women.
Manson said she hopes these scandals will open up a conversation in the Catholic church about the abuse of adult women by men in spiritual power.
“The stories of Vanier and Haas show us that ‘clericalism’ cannot be the rallying cry for what needs to change for our church to stop sexual abuse and its cover up,” she wrote. “What needs to change is the institutional church’s consecration and elevation of male power. The hierarchy can create as many training programs, policies and procedures as they like, but until they address male dominance as the underlying cause of sexual abuse, the crisis will never be resolved.”
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