Should We Sing David Haas’s Songs After He’s Been Accused of Sexual Abuse?

By Erin O’Donnell
Editor, Awake Blog

*For more current information about this situation, please see more recent blog posts here, as well as these words from one survivor.*

If you’ve attended a Catholic liturgy sometime in the last three decades, chances are that you’ve heard or sung a composition by David Haas. His songs include “We Are Called,” “Blest Are They,” “You Are Mine,” “Holy Is Your Name,” and “We Have Been Told,” to name just a few. As a result, it was gut-wrenching to read in June that multiple women have accused Haas of sexual misconduct. Earlier this year, GIA Publications, publisher of the Gather hymnals, announced that it ended its relationship with Haas. The Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis, where Haas is based, also declined to write a “letter of suitability” for him, preventing him from ministering under the Archdiocese’s auspices.   

The situation poses difficult questions for music ministers, some of whom are debating the ethics of using music written by a man accused of sexual abuse. Awake spoke to two music ministers, one in Milwaukee and one in Louisville, Kentucky, about how they are making decisions about the use of Haas’s music.

When she heard news about the allegations against Haas, Mary Robertson, director of liturgy and music for Three Holy Women and Our Lady of Divine Providence in Milwaukee reached out to three close friends who are victim-survivors of sexual abuse. She asked how they would feel hearing Haas’s songs during a liturgy. They responded that they would be unable to sing his songs anymore, knowing the allegations against him. One responded, “I would feel anger that once again survivors don’t matter, that the Church once again can’t make the difficult decision to do the right thing and stand in solidarity with the women whose lives will forever be affected.” The parishes where Robertson works have not yet made an official decision about Haas’s songs, but her personal feelings are clear. “I think it would be a slap in the face for a victim, knowing that we’re aware of the allegations and are still using music that Mr. Haas has written,” Robertson says. “To me it would feel like we were selfishly singing a song because it’s our favorite, and ignoring the survivors who experienced the abuse and could be retraumatized by hearing his music.”

Andrew Stone Porter, music minister at St. William Catholic Community in Louisville, Kentucky, wrote about his parish’s process of reckoning with the allegations against Haas. “As we know, false reports of sexual violence are rare, and for a pattern as extensive as this to be false is extremely unlikely,” he recently told Awake. “I quickly became convinced that the allegations were true and that we needed, as a community, to respond to them.”

A Pattern of Manipulative, Predatory Behavior

The nonprofit organization Into Account, which supports victim-survivors abused in faith-based settings, announced in May that it had received multiple reports from women who said they were sexually abused by Haas. This prompted more women to come forward, and more than 30 women have reported sexual abuse by Haas.

The women describe being groomed by Haas during his Music Ministry Alive camp for teens, where he would single out certain girls for attention, praise their talent, give them gifts, and express interest in their careers. They also recount hoping that he would make eye contact with them while singing the hymn “You Are Mine” during the camp concert.

When the girls reached adulthood, what seemed like caring mentorship would shift. Haas would pursue them aggressively at music conferences, cornering them, kissing them forcibly, inviting them to his hotel room, making lewd comments, and threatening their careers in music ministry when they rejected his advances.

In interviews with the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), women describe giving up singing and music ministry, which they’d once loved, and working hard to avoid being retraumatized by hearing Haas’s songs at Mass. “How do I navigate that world where I want to participate in this thing that I love, as a full member of the body of Christ? I feel like I can’t,” one of the women told NCR. “I can’t sing his music, I can’t see his name, I can’t hear people clap along to his songs, as wonderful as they might be.”

Developing a “Survivor-Centered” Response

Stone Porter in Louisville says the news about Haas made him “horrified, and outraged, and saddened on behalf of survivors who have experienced this violence.” But as someone who has been singing and finding meaning in Haas’s songs since childhood, he acknowledged some personal pain. “There was confusion, and sadness, and grief over the fact that part of my self-understanding as a Christian person was shaped by a sexual predator,” he says.

In addition to his music ministry at St. William, Stone Porter is a doctoral candidate in the department of religion at Vanderbilt University, where he is studying ethics and society. One of his colleagues at Vanderbilt, who graduated and became a professor of theology, now works for Into Account. Stone Porter first learned about the allegations against Haas through this colleague’s social media posts.

The ministry team at St. William began to talk about how to respond. “We didn’t have a consensus as a staff, nor did we have the answers, but thankfully I did have my colleague at Into Account,” Stone Porter says. She offered to lead the St. William team in a meeting to help them develop a “survivor-centered” response.

Many Christians respond to sexual abuse allegations with concern for the alleged perpetrator and “with the insight that all of us are sinners, and flawed, that we all make mistakes, and that as Christians, it is our responsibility to forgive,” Stone Porter says. But his colleague from Into Account noted that this response directs all attention to the perpetrator.

“It’s a response in which survivors are totally absent,” he says. “Even though forgiveness is good in theory, if one simply extends forgiveness without making an effort to repair the damage that was done, then one risks replaying the cycle of violence all over again.”

“When violence has been done, our first response should be to attend to those who have suffered the violence and try to ensure their safety and that the pattern of sexual violence is disrupted within our community,” he adds.

Stone Porter was moved by an analogy shared by his colleague at Into Account. “She said to imagine that an experience of sexual violence is a 1,000-pound weight that is bearing down on a community,” he explains. “When sexual violence occurs, 100 percent of that weight rests upon the shoulders of the survivors. If our response is to center the perpetrators and not to attend to the voices and needs of survivors, we ensure that the weight will continue to rest entirely on their shoulders. If we can take steps to listen to their voices, hear their concerns, and in some way change our practices to create a safer environment, then we are reducing the amount of burden on their shoulders.”

The ministry team reached out to St. William parishioners, inviting any survivors of sexual abuse to help “discuss and formulate our path forward,” Stone Porter says. Multiple people responded, and the group will meet for the first time, virtually, in coming weeks. “Given the pervasive levels of sexual violence in churches and in society, it’s very likely that most communities have many members who are survivors of sexual violence,” he says. But parishes shouldn’t imagine that all survivors will agree. “We can’t assume that survivors are a monolithic group, or that discussions or decisions will happen without tension,” he says. “But tension is part of the process, and it is worth pursuing even though it is hard.”  

Moving Forward

With the help of those survivors, St. William Catholic Community will decide if it will use Haas’s music in the future, and what kind of public statement the parish might make about its decision. One possibility: Stone Porter says they could decide to use Haas’s songs, but include a statement about that decision in the worship aid. “It might say, ‘We play this song, but we condemn the sexual violence that was committed by its author, and we stand in solidarity with the victims and survivors,” he explains. 

Mary Robertson in Milwaukee says she is reflecting on how to use decisions about Haas’s music “as a teaching moment for our faith communities, to help them understand what it means to stand in solidarity with victims. It involves listening to them, and in this case, it may mean we don’t get to sing some songs that have become favorites,” she says. “It’s a difficult and emotional decision to come forward as the women did in this case, and their feelings and experiences deserve to be considered in our response. I think that’s a shift that we all need to make: ‘How is what we’re doing affecting victims?'”

She found recent webcasts by music publisher GIA personally helpful, especially one discussing power and influence in the Church. “How do we prevent somebody from accumulating so much star power that it allows them to sway people’s minds?” Robertson asks. The webcast’s panelists suggested that putting anyone on a pedestal—as Haas was, and as clergy sometimes are—creates conditions that permit abuse.   

Eliminating Haas’s music from liturgies will leave a gap, Stone Porter acknowledges. “But removing his music from our catalog also gives us the opportunity to find new composers, including women composers,” he says, “whose music might be very special, and brilliant and wonderful.”

Erin O’Donnell is a freelance journalist and member of Saints Peter and Paul Parish. She lives on Milwaukee’s East Side with her husband and two sons.

For additional coverage of how local parishes have addressed the use of David Haas’s compositions in liturgy, check out this post.

19 thoughts on “Should We Sing David Haas’s Songs After He’s Been Accused of Sexual Abuse?

  1. Of course not! No one can call his music sacred, after he has so blatantly harmed people and used his role as a liturgist to do the harm. My rage is out the door!! I am very biased, after having 5 members of my family traumatized with sexual abuse initiated by a priest. Move toward the victims, because that is where Christ resides. Mr. Haas is in need of much psychological work before he can feel remorse for what he has done. In the mean time, maybe shelving or burning his music, will be a wake up call for him to feel his losses and take responsibility for what he has done.

  2. The analogy of the survivor bearing a 1,000 pound stone after the assault rang true to me. Very powerful explanation of what can be hard to understand. We all need to help survivors by carrying some of the weight of that stone through our support, compassion and listening. As much as I loved many of Haas’ songs, I no longer want to hear them because I now understand how much they hurt survivors. We can give up the joy of singing those songs in order to carry some of the weightj of the stone on survivors.

  3. I think it is important for the absence of his songs to be acknowledged to a worshipping community as an act of solidarity with victims and a condemnation of the abuse of power. For his songs to just disappear would serve no purpose other than to continue the head-in-the-sand attitude that has allowed abuses to continue. I’m happy to hear that parishes are trying to find healing and restorative means to deal with another sad and sorry moment in the life of our Church and her people.

  4. Being asked to sing his songs is like biting into a piece of rotten fruit. There are so many beautiful hymns in our tradition. Let’s choose the ones that sustain us and nurture us spiritually, not those that leave a bad taste in our mouth, or make many of us sick.
    I agree that a particular church’s decision to publicly remove his music from their catalog is an valuable way to show support and solidarity to victims and survivors. While removing them quietly might be easier, it might be a missed opportunity.

  5. David Haas is accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct. As Catholics, we are encouraged to listen to and believe these allegations until proven otherwise. Investigations are continuing.
    I enjoy singing sacred music. I do not want music composed by a known sexual predator included in sacred events which I attend.
    I support informing our Parish[s] of the decision, including the rationale, for not including his music in Parish events.

    1. 1. Does the music come back in 100 years when everyone has passed away, or David has a conversion, or the survivors want it back?
      2. How do we honor the survivors?
      3. Who decides what conduct is worthy of being removed from a publication? What if the conduct is murder? Or money laundering? Or tax evasion? Or euthanasia? Or abortion? Or racism?
      4 How many people need to be effected by a sin in order for an organization to take it seriously? Who decides the number of people?
      5. How do we show mercy and forgiveness if it is sought?
      6. What, ultimately, brings healing to the survivors, to the community, and to the perpetrator?

  6. I just became aware of the music of David Haas, and have been quite blest by it; now I hear of these charges against him. I understand the concerns, but should that cancel his music? Is David Haas repentant? Because King David committed adultery, do we remove his psalms from the Bible? Dao we refuse to use and Sing Psalm 23? God forgives; shouldn’t we? Can we help abuse survivors approach it this way to get beyond the person and be abl;e to use the songs? Dr. Vern Raaflaub, retired seminary professor, Edmonton AB, Canada

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful engagement with this question. We certainly leave the state of Haas’s soul in the hands of God. If you take some time to listen directly to those who were abused by Haas, it might help clarify why the use of this music (which he used to manipulate and abuse his victims) is particularly harmful. This event recording includes a conversation on that topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQjbfs9Mdf0.

      One question I might raise is this – As Christians, should we put the responsibility on the abuse survivors to “get beyond” their traumatic experiences if they want to be able to worship in a Catholic Church – or might God be inviting the Catholic community to take action in solidarity and support of those who have been harmed? For me, it seems a small sacrifice to give up a a few songs so that survivors are not retraumatized in our communities.

  7. My husband and I were married 35 years ago by a priest that ended up jailed for sexual abuse of children. Does that mean that my vows, the church’s text, are not valid? Does it mean that I should never read 1Corinthinan’s 13 as it was read at the mass celebrated by this pedophile? Should I never step foot in the church again as this particular priest had been moved between parishes so clearly his behavior was known by church leaders? I understand this is not the same as being physically abused, what I don’t understand is why Haas’ songs, of God’s love/nature/faithfulness to us, should turn to dust. Paul sent many to jail (and worse) before coming to know Jesus, should his letters be pulled from the bible? Many saints started out with pure evil hearts, should their stories/feast days be revoked? Allow God to work in Haas’ life, require royalties to go to the many victims and wonderful organizations that offer support and healing to victims of sexual abuse.

    1. Janet, thank you for reading and considering this important question. I’m so sorry for what you experienced with the the priest who celebrated your wedding, but I’m glad to hear you’ve been able to trust in the grace of the Sacrament in spite of the sinfulness of the minister.

      I certainly trust in God’s mercy and power to work in any individual’s life and heart. For me, the question is how the Church will choose to respond to the pleas of survivors who want to feel safe coming to Mass without being retraumatized. Will I prioritize singing a song I enjoy over the needs of these women who have been so deeply hurt?

      Hearing the voices of those who have been harmed has made a huge impact on my heart and how I approach questions like this. If you are open to listening to those voices, you might consider reading Margaret’s story here: https://awakemilwaukee.org/2020/10/14/survivor-story-after-my-experience-with-david-haas-i-cant-sing-his-music/ and learning more about this particular situation here: https://awakemilwaukee.org/2021/01/26/courageous-conversations-awake-welcomes-three-women-who-spoke-out-about-david-haas/.

  8. One of the most compelling lessons I took away from a Confirmation retreat back in high school was the idea that “good” frequently comes from a “bad” source or circumstance. A couple of years later, as a college student, I was the beneficiary of a “good” from a very “bad” source—an ex-brother-in-law who not only physically abused my sister and sent her the emergency room on one occasion, but who was also so insidious that he told her “I know where to hit you so that there won’t be any scars.” He psychologically abused her and constantly threatened to take away her children from her if she ever left him. After eight years, she finally left him, and he did exactly as he said he would—he took her kids away and made false allegations of child abuse against her boyfriend. I didn’t see my niece and nephew for 8 years. And yet…I have been forced to admit many times over the years that this man, awful as he was, gave me some of the best counsel when I was in college about where to bring my troubles and my heavy heart to when I am/was hurting. “Just give it to God,” he told me. His heart clearly (and surprisingly compassionately) at the time was focused on my well-being. Was his wise counsel somehow not as impactful because of who he was. I hate having to admit it, but I don’t think so. And that bit of advice has served me so well these past 25+ years. I think it just goes to show that God uses all of us (even the most seriously flawed of us) to do His will. David Haas penned the songs we have come to know and love when his heart was in the right place just as my brother-in-law’s heart was those many years ago. His music…..a good that has blessed us so very much over the years, is not the flawed man that he seems to be. Again, it just goes to show that that compelling lesson from back in my Confirmation days about good coming from the “bad” continues to be true. We can continue to have our hearts and our souls be blessed and enriched by the music because we know it to be a good—just as my brother-in-law’s counsel was–in spite of its source.

    1. Tina, I am so sorry for the awful situation with your ex-brother-in-law and also glad to know you were able to remember the good that came from your the advice he gave you.

      I don’t think anyone is trying to discount the possibility that God can work good through all things. In this case, the question in my mind is whether we prioritize the needs of those who have been harmed or our own desire for a particular song. After listening to so many people wounded by sexual abuse – by Haas and many others – I personally want to do everything I can to make the Church a safe place for them.

  9. He has harmed people but his music has not, we can hate him but not his music, like math, I hate the subject but love the teacher, and Eminem was an abuser, we still listen to his music. More examples, Ozzy Osbourne tried to kill his wife, John Lennon openly admitted that he beat women in his younger years, Elvis Presley dated a 14yr old when he was 24-years-old. We can stand up against Hass but we don’t have to blame the music, its lines on paper, not a person.

    1. Thank you for engaging with this difficult question Izzy. I wonder if you’ve had the opportunity to listen to the women abused by Haas, who outline the ways he used his music to manipulate them and the way use of his music continues to cause harm to them today? (This clip from survivor Margaret Hillman is particularly powerful: https://youtu.be/hVuuhd-eRog – “When you ask me to sing his music, you’re putting his voice in my head.”)

      Personally, I’m not interested in hating Haas or his music – Just in doing what we can to support survivors and make our churches a safe place for them to worship again.

      I will add – If I ever hear Eminem or Ozzy Osbourne’s music used to worship God at a Catholic Mass, I will be very surprised! 🙂

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