Thirty years ago someone coined the term “reality distortion field” to describe the effect on an audience when Steve Jobs made a presentation. Due to his charisma, Jobs is supposedly able to convince others of his viewpoint even when reality says otherwise. In other words, he could convince Eskimos that they need the ice-making machine he has built.
While this may or may not be true, I think there is a similar effect that occurs with every media personality. When we regularly see someone on TV, or hear him on the radio, or even read his blog, we begin to believe that we really know him personally. We believe that we have developed a relationship with this person, much like the relationships we have with our family and friends. But this is not reality: having access to someone solely via media grants us no real knowledge of a person, at least not the type of knowledge that comes from interacting with someone in person. Although we think we know him, we are in truth strangers. Of course, one can be fooled even when in close personal contact with someone, but this is much more unlikely than if our only contact is through some technological medium.
Which brings us to Fr. Corapi. As most people know by now, he has been accused of immoral behavior and has been put on administrative leave. It is also important to note that he has denied all the charges against him. What I am most surprised by, however, is how many people have strongly defended him (and attacked the accuser) in spite of only “knowing” him through his TV and radio shows. If we have learned anything over the past few years, it is that someone who is orthodox in his public preaching is not immune from personal failings and sins (which we should have known from our reading of the Bible – see St. Peter). Most of us don’t know Fr. Corapi (or the woman who is accusing him), so how can we know whether the accusation is true or not? Because he’s a good preacher?
Does this mean that whenever someone is accused of immoral behavior we should never defend him before all the facts are out? No, but it does mean that we should withhold judgement regarding people we don’t really know. If one of my good friends were accused of something like this, and he denied it, I would defend his good name until any facts contradicted his story. This is because I have built a personal trust that allows me to give him the benefit of the doubt. But if a stranger were accused and protested his innocence, I would wait until all the facts were in before forming a judgement. And in reality, Fr. Corapi is a stranger to me, as my only knowledge of him comes from seeing him on TV and hearing him on the radio. He is as much a stranger to me as the woman who made the accusations against him – so why should I assume that she is guilty (of slander)? Of course I hope and pray that the accusations are false, because if true they are a great scandal, but until the facts are out, I will simply assume that both parties – Fr. Corapi and the woman – are innocent. I realize that it is probably impossible that they are both are innocent, but I see no reason to assume guilt on the part of either party at this point.
I am disturbed by how much we Catholics have let the media influence our judgement. Just because you see someone on TV, or hear him on the radio, or read his blog, doesn’t mean you truly know them. The best reaction in these situations is not to assume guilt by either party, but to pray that the truth might come out and justice served.