When news broke last summer that dozens of women had accused popular Catholic composer David Haas of sexual abuse, some dioceses responded quickly, directing music ministers to stop using his compositions, which include popular contemporary hymns such as “Blest Are They” and “We Are Called.”
The women who made allegations against Haas filed their reports with Into Account, a small organization that supports survivors of sexual violence in Christian contexts. To date, Into Account has received 44 different reports, available here. After Into Account made these reports public, two survivors—including Margaret Hillman, who shared her story with Awake—joined with a former team member of Haas’s music ministry camp to contact all Catholic dioceses in the United States, asking that they stop using Haas’s music. The women sent three different letters to each diocese. Of the 174 dioceses, 84 have responded to say that they are no longer using his songs, says Laurie Delgatto-Whitten, former member of the Music Ministry Alive! team.
+ The Diocese of San Jose issued a statement on July 16 the that said, in part: “In response to these allegations, we have suspended the use of David Haas’ music in the Diocese of San Jose until further notice, effective immediately.” The diocese took the action “to avoid causing further trauma to anyone by the use of Mr. Haas’ music.”
+ On July 30, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles asked parishes, schools, and ministries to “refrain from using music composed by musician David Haas out of respect for those who have reported sexual misconduct by Mr. Haas.” The Archdiocese also forbade Haas from performing in the archdiocese.
+ In the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis, where Haas is based, Tim O’Malley, director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment wrote in July that after the Into Account allegations went public, the Archdiocese received reports from women around the country accusing Haas of similar patterns of abuse. “We are sharing this information in the interest of accountability and transparency and believe that it may assist others, as it has assisted us, in making informed decisions,” he explained. “Survivors of sexual harassment and abuse deserve support and understanding.” Archbishop Bernard Hebda banned Haas from taking part in archdiocesan events, declared a moratorium on his music in archdiocesan liturgies, and urged “pastors, principals, and leaders of other Catholic institutions to consider the sensitivities involved with using Haas’ music in liturgies or other parish or school events.”
+ On August 10, the Archdiocese of Boston advised its parishes, schools and ministries to “refrain from using music composed by Mr. Haas until such time as there is a resolution to the allegations against him. We recognize that he is afforded the opportunity to defend himself. However, given the enormous pain and suffering survivors of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct experience, we feel it is appropriate to suspend the use of his music at this time,” the archdiocese said.
+ Closer to home, Bishop James Powers of the Diocese of Superior announced on October 30 that “with all that has come to light regarding David Haas, the Diocese of Superior will not use Haas’ compositions at diocesan Masses and other events. I also encourage all parish and other Catholic institution leaders to consider the many music options other than Haas’s.”
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has not issued any public statements about Haas, or provided guidance about the use of Haas’s music in liturgies. In October, Awake contacted the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Worship Office to ask if it planned to issue such guidance. That office directed these questions to Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Archbishop Jerome Listecki.
In an email sent on October 8, Topczewski responded that the Archdiocese had not communicated with parishes about Haas’s music. “It doesn’t appear to be of concern to parish staff or Catholics in the pew,” he said. “I would guess the vast majority of Catholics have no idea who David Haas is. This is not his diocese.”
Milwaukee Music Ministers Respond
Despite the silence by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, some local music ministers have made decisions to stop using Haas’s music. For example, the music ministers, pastors, and pastoral associate of the Family of Four Parishes in Milwaukee’s Downtown, East Side, and Riverwest neighborhoods recently wrote a letter to parishioners explaining that the four parishes would no longer use any songs written by Haas.
The letter acknowledged that the community might feel sad about this decision: “On a human level, this is a difficult decision because Mr. Haas was a very prolific composer and many of his songs are favorites that have helped us pray, grieve or celebrate.”
Yet it is not good to ask abuse survivors to listen to and pray with music that may re-traumatize them, the letter said. “Let us draw on the virtue of fortitude to put aside our personal feelings for the music in favor of the feelings and experience of those who have lived through sexual abuse,” the letter continued. “Let us listen to survivors when they tell us what they need from us and take action.”
Tom Koester, who directs music for campus ministry at Marquette University, decided this fall to stop using Haas’s music. As the director of liturgical choir, he trains the more than 75 student musicians who lead music in campus liturgies each year. They use the Gather hymnal, third edition, which includes many compositions by Haas, as well as the well-known Gloria from Haas’s Mass of Light. “The students were very open to this decision,” Koester explains. “They agreed that while this was difficult, they really understood the reasons that we shouldn’t continue using the music, and agreed to abide by that.”
Haas’s music was popular because it both touched on contemporary issues and was based closely on scripture, he explains. “It feels inauthentic, even though the words are right, to know that this person’s actions are not in alignment with that,” Koester says. “It doesn’t feel right to use the music when his own personal actions were so harmful.”
Koester has not yet announced this decision to the campus congregation; he says he has been hesitant to do so because there is so much disruption due to the COVID pandemic. But he is considering making an announcement in the liturgy newsletter in the new year.
Music ministers can choose from a growing pool of new, contemporary, scripture-based music, Koester says. And he urges music ministers to consider the presence of victim-survivors in the congregation. “We just don’t know who is out there,” Koester says. He does know young people who attended and loved Haas’s music ministry camps in Minnesota as teenagers. Even those who did not personally experience abuse are grieving the allegations.
Victim-survivors of other abuse may experience pain as well. “I think musicians ought to be thinking that way,” he says. “Pastors ought to be thinking that way, and I definitely think our archdiocese ought to be very cautious about that.”
—Erin O’Donnell, Editor, Awake Blog
Other Responses to the Haas Allegations
Parishes that have made compassionate, survivor-centered statements about their decision to stop using Haas’s songs include St. Benedict Parish and Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago, and the Church of St. Mary in Alexandria, Minnesota.
Additionally, some entire Christian denominations have asked their congregations to discontinue the use of Haas’s music, including the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Mennonite Church USA.