UPDATE: New report describes sexual abuse, assault allegations against musician David Haas

| October 10, 2020 | 0 Comments

A report detailing sexual abuse and assault allegations against Catholic musician and composer David Haas describes him using his influence as a faith leader in grooming victim-survivors and suppressing reports or concerns about his behavior.

The report also alleges that Haas sexually abused minors, including the claim he raped a 13-year-old girl in 1979 during a confirmation retreat in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Advocacy group Into Account published the 22-page report Oct. 1. It includes graphic descriptions of victim-survivors’ claims, including forced sexual acts and unwanted touching. The report alleges that, between 1979 and 1982, when Haas was in his early 20s, he targeted girls ages 13 to 17 for sexual acts, including rape. After 1982, reported allegations include grooming of girls under 18, and grooming, unwanted attention and touching, and forced sexual acts with women between the ages of 18 and 60.

Haas is a well-known composer of contemporary hymns, including “You Are Mine,” “We Are Called” and “Blessed Are They.” From 1999 to 2017, Haas led Music Ministry Alive!, a liturgical arts camp independent from, but held at, St. Catherine University in St. Paul. Haas has lead concerts and retreats and participated in conferences around the United States. He also directs The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry in Eagan and has worked in campus ministry in two high schools in the archdiocese.

In an Oct. 11 email to The Catholic Spirit, Haas, through an attorney, said he reiterated his July 9 apology, and denied the claim he raped a 13-year-old girl.

“The new allegation in the Into Account report as referenced in the archdiocese statement that I sexually abused and raped a 13-year-old girl is absolutely false. It is an anonymous allegation and an attempt to smear me with an outrageously false allegation. I have never had improper sexual contact with a 13-year-old girl,” he said.

In an Oct. 8 statement, Tim O’Malley, director of ministerial standards and safe environment in the archdiocese, called Into Account’s report “disturbing.”

“We affirm and emphasize the importance of courageous survivors of abuse telling their story publicly,” he said. “History has shown that confronting sexual abuse leads to a better future and promotes justice. Hopefully, that proves to be the case here.”

O’Malley said that prior to Into Account’s report, his office was unaware of the 1979 rape allegation. The Into Account report claims that the alleged victim and an adult reported the incident to Church officials, including Archbishop John Roach, on three separate occasions. O’Malley said that professional investigators, all former law enforcement personnel, reviewed the archdiocese’s files and did not locate a report of the claim. The office has alerted law enforcement about the allegation, he said.

In the Oct. 8 statement, O’Malley encouraged anyone with information about criminal behavior to report it immediately to police. He also reiterated information he shared in two prior statements this year, following a May 2020 letter circulated by Into Account first publicizing the allegations.

In 2018, the archdiocese received reports that Haas had allegedly made non-criminal, sexual advances on two young adult women in another state. O’Malley said his office interviewed the women and allowed Haas to address the reports. The archdiocese then told Haas that he was not allowed to provide his services to Catholic institutions in the archdiocese without disclosing those complaints, and it declined to provide a letter of recommendation that Haas requested.

In a June 16, 2020, statement, O’Malley also acknowledged a complaint the archdiocese received in 1987 that “Haas made unwanted sexual advances toward a young adult woman,” which Haas denied.

The October Into Account report described the incident as a “sexual assault of an 18-year-old first-year woman student at the College of St. Benedict” in St. Joseph, Minnesota, for which Haas was required to write a letter to the victim-survivor’s parents.

In July 2020, after receiving additional complaints that Haas had “engaged in inappropriate conduct” with other young women at various locations around the country in the 1980s, the archdiocese notified Haas that he was no longer allowed to provide his services at Catholic institutions in the archdiocese. The archdiocese also discontinued using Haas’ compositions at archdiocesan liturgies, and encouraged parishes and schools “to consider the sensitivities involved with using Haas’ music.”

Seventeen other dioceses and other Christian groups have made similar decisions. Liturgical music publisher GIA Publications announced in June that it had ended its longtime relationship with Haas, a prolific composer.

Into Account’s report was based on reports of 44 women, including Haas’ former wife Jeanne Cotter, a fellow liturgical musician to whom he was married from 1988 to 1995. In a June 21 Facebook post, Cotter said they began a relationship when she was 16 and he was 23, and that they divorced because of Haas’ infidelities.

The report’s authors described Haas’ sexual behavior toward his victims as aggressive and sudden, with a focus on vulnerable women. Women who raised alarms about signs of grooming — such as an abundance of personal communication, sexual conversations or excessive physical affection — said they were told by others that those behaviors could be dismissed as “That’s just David.” The report claims that women who resisted his advances received or feared Haas’ retaliation in their professional or social lives.

The report also includes allegations that Haas spiritually manipulated girls and women, in part through Music Ministry Alive!, a five-day camp for teenagers ages 14 and older. According to the report, participants had “a cult-like reverence for Haas,” who created emotionally intense prayer and small-group sharing situations, where Haas gained information he could use to allegedly assess participants’ vulnerability. The report claimed that Haas groomed girls during the camp, and then would later assault them when they were young adults.

“Haas blended religious devotion and abuse in a way that increased the vulnerability of his spiritually sincere targets and guaranteed it would be difficult for survivors to disentangle themselves from his abuse without spiritual confusion or distress,” the report said.

The report also called into question the role of Lori True, a liturgical composer, Music Ministry Alive!’s associate director and a former campus ministry employee at St. Catherine’s university. It stated that “many members of the MMA community noted times when they expressed concerns to Lori True in good faith about MMA in general or David Haas in particular only to be met with defensiveness accompanied by sobbing or shouting, leaving the person raising the concerns with intense feelings of guilt, shame and humiliation.”

True told The Catholic Spirit Oct. 12 that she never received a complaint about Haas in regards to sexual predatory behavior or sexual misconduct.

“As a survivor of sexual assault, and the mother of two grown daughters — one with severe muscular dystrophy — I have spent most of my life in protective mode, with a heightened awareness of potentially harmful actions against vulnerable and young people in my care,” she said via email. “If I had seen any such action by David Haas, I would have stopped it immediately. In my 19-year association with Music Ministry Alive, I never received a complaint or report regarding sexual predatory behavior or sexual misconduct by Haas. If any such concern had surfaced, I would have taken prompt action and reported it. In having no such complaint, I have never intentionally ‘shamed’ a Music Ministry Alive! participant or team member.”

In an Aug. 4 statement to its community, St. Catherine University said that while the camps were held on its campus, that Haas has never been a member of the university’s faculty or staff. It said the university is investigating its relationship with Haas and allegations involving Music Ministry Alive!

“If the investigation does find that any abuses have taken place, we will take action pursuant with university policies and legal guidelines,” it stated. In an Oct. 9 statement, the university said that the university “believes the victims who have come forward to share their experience” and that its investigation continues.

In June, Haas denied Into Account’s allegations, calling them “false, reckless and offensive.” In July, he issued an apology that said he had “come to realize that I have caused great harm to a variety of people.”

“I never, ever intended to hurt anyone,” he wrote. “I realize now that even well-intentioned actions may have hurtful impact and consequences. Through the help of professional intervention and treatment, I am at the beginning to a path toward greater self-insight, insight to help me face and truly understand how my actions violated trust.”

In the Oct. 11 email to The Catholic Spirit, Haas said that he wants people whom he’s harmed to know he takes “full responsibility for my actions and am truly sorry.”

“I am continuing with professional intervention to help me face and understand how my actions have violated your trust,” he said, speaking to those whom he’s hurt.
“I have continued to give prayerful thought to my actions and ask for forgiveness from anyone I have harmed — those individually and those in the Church community who have been harmed because of these accusations,” he said. “I believe in the God who loves all of us and pray for anyone I have harmed and pray for God’s forgiveness.”
A native of Michigan, Haas completed music and theology degrees at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Haas has also previously served as an artist-in-residence at St. Thomas the Apostle in Minneapolis, The St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul,  Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park and Cretin-Derham Hall high school in St. Paul. He is a member of St. Cecilia in St. Paul, where he has volunteered as a liturgical musician.

Into Account is based in Kansas and led by Stephanie Krehbiel, who holds a PhD in American studies. She authored the report along with Jay Yoder, Hilary Jerome Scarsella and Erin Bergen. The organization describes itself as providing “advocacy and up-to-date resources to survivors seeking accountability” and focuses on people who have been harmed in Christian settings.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Oct. 12 to include new statements provided to The Catholic Spirit from David Haas and Lori True.

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