By Erin O’Donnell
Editor, Awake Blog
GIA Publications, one of the largest publishers of Catholic hymnals and sacred music in the United States, emailed all Catholic dioceses in the country last week, explaining its decision to stop publishing music written by Catholic composer David Haas, and sharing news of his ongoing behavior.
GIA had been publishing Haas’s music, which includes common contemporary hymns such as “Blest Are They,” “You Are Mine,” and “We Are Called,” for almost 40 years. Last year more than 50 people contacted Into Account, a small organization that supports victim-survivors of sexual abuse, to report a range of predatory behaviors by Haas. Into Account published a summary of the abuse reports on its website in October 2020.
GIA was the main publisher of Haas’s music, but the Chicago-based company suspended and then ended its relationship with him in spring 2020 after learning that Haas’s home diocese, the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis, chose not to issue a “letter of good standing” for him in January 2020 after receiving two reports of sexual misconduct. (Such letters are often required for clergy and music ministers to serve in other dioceses.)
GIA shared a small section of its email with Awake. It says:
While we understand that Mr. Haas maintains his innocence, we took these actions out of compassion and respect for the dozens of survivors who have come forward and because we believe Mr. Haas’ music no longer has a place in communities committed to maintaining a safe environment.
To understand why GIA sent this email to offices of worship in all U.S. dioceses, Awake talked with Kate Williams (pictured above), vice president of sacred music for GIA, who has helped shape GIA’s response to the David Haas abuse reports.
Haas ran a liturgical music camp for teenagers, Music Ministry Alive! (MMA), in St. Paul, Minnesota from 1999 to 2017. Williams herself attended MMA for three years as a teenager. She then served two years as an intern in college, and later attended as a staff teacher and accompanist. She says she did not experience sexual abuse at the camp and was unaware of the allegations against Haas at the time.
Many of the women who reported abuse by Haas described being groomed by him as teenagers at MMA, where young attendees clamored for his attention and his guidance in future music ministry careers. According to Into Account, when the women turned 18, what seemed like mentorship would shift abruptly, and Haas would pursue them aggressively at music ministry conferences, where he was a high-profile presenter.
Last spring, Williams wrote a column in the GIA Quarterly describing GIA’s decision to stop publishing Haas’s music. She encouraged music ministers to believe the growing number of victim-survivors making reports, and to use other compositions instead. She also noted that Haas “weaponize[ed] his stature and status against people who stood in the way of what he wanted.” Roughly 80 U.S. dioceses have issued moratoriums on Haas’s music. A small group of women abused by Haas sent multiple letters to all U.S. dioceses last year asking them to halt the use of his songs and describing how singing these pieces at church can be retraumatizing—to Haas’s victims and to survivors of sexual abuse by other people.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee stated earlier this summer that it will not issue guidance to music ministers about Haas’s music, leaving this decision to local parishes.
The decision to remove Haas’s music from the GIA catalog and make it inaccessible for purchase was not simple, Williams explains. “The legacy that he had built at GIA was deeply embedded in the company as a whole,” she says, and his compositions were a source of “ongoing revenue.” The company continues to hear criticism from some music ministers who believe GIA has fallen victim to “cancel culture.”
Williams acknowledges the difficulty faced by parishes that have purchased GIA hymnals. While future versions will not include any music by Haas, existing hymnals include dozens of his compositions. “Now music directors are faced with tough decisions and fraught emotions no matter what path they choose,” she says, “including the burden of explaining their decisions to their communities.”
Yet Williams says this recent email to diocesan worship leaders, signed by GIA president Alec Harris, felt necessary for two reasons. First, in early July, a 21-year-old who attended MMA as a teen made public a letter she recently received from Haas, which sexual abuse advocates say shows characteristics of grooming behavior. Second, Williams reports that GIA learned that multiple Catholic schools used Haas’s song, “We Are Called” as part of eighth and twelve grade graduation liturgies in the spring, suggesting that some dioceses have not heard the reports about Haas or are indifferent to the news.
“He just showed us that he’s still at it, still texting young women and using the same manipulative techniques,” Williams asserts. “I don’t want to give the message to any person, especially a young person in the care of the Catholic school system, that treating women in this way won’t have a real consequence for the abuser.”
“We’re hoping that if the statement comes from a company with a lot to lose, that has already lost a lot, people will take this more seriously.”
Williams feels some responsibility in helping victim-survivors achieve accountability. “I believe these women, and I’ve come to know them quite a bit throughout the last year, through their bravery and story-telling,” she says. “I want to do right by them.”
“As a Church we can do a better job of believing women,” Williams asserts.
Of the women who made reports to Into Account, Williams says, “many are music ministers themselves, many of them are faithful Catholics who have gone to work or to worship every weekend for years and have been wrestling with, ‘How do I deal with it when my abuser’s words are being quite literally shoved down my throat in my place of refuge, my Church?’”
Some people argue that it’s important to separate the art from the artist, giving the examples of Picasso (who had a history of abusing women) and Wagner (an anti-Semite), who also produced valued works of art. Williams sees the Haas situation differently because, she says, he is still using his music as a “manipulative tool to gain access to people.” In early news reports of the accusations about Haas, women alleged that Haas maintained eye contact with favorite students at MMA while singing his song “You Are Mine,” and would share new compositions with girls to make them feel special.
It’s problematic to sing these works in sacred liturgy, Williams says. ”When music directors lead music in Mass, they are asking for full, conscious, and active participation,” she explains. “With this music, in my opinion, it is not possible to achieve this anymore.”
How Are Dioceses and Parishes Handling Haas’s Music?
For more Awake coverage about David Haas, including how some bishops and music ministers have decided to handle his music, see:
+ Update: Dioceses and Parishes Consider Survivor-Centered Approaches to David Haas’s Music
+ Survivor Story: After My Experience with David Haas, I Can’t Sing His Music
+ News About Composer David Haas Grows Worse, Victim-Survivors Ask for a Ban on His Music
+ Should We Sing David Haas’s Songs After He’s Been Accused of Sexual Abuse?
+ Playlist: Video Highlights from “The Women Who Spoke Out” Virtual Event (below)