Why the Church Should Ban the Music of Composers Accused of Abuse
Recently, a notification was sent by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles reminding music ministers that the compositions of David Haas and Prof. Cesareo Gabarain were banned due to allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct. The statement says:
This notification is issued as a reminder of two issues regarding the use and performance of certain music in our Archdiocese.
In October 2020, a directive imposing a complete ban by the Archdiocese on the use or performance of any music by David Haas was issued. Specifically, the directive prohibits the use or performance of any music written or composed by Mr. Haas and any performance by him. The David Haas directive was issued after an investigation concluded that allegations of sexual misconduct by him, which had been reported to the Archdiocese, were credible.
In October 2021, the Archdiocese announced that parishes, schools and ministries should refrain from using music or recordings of works composed by the Father. Cesáreo Gabaráin (RIP) following the statement issued by the Marist Iberian Province which confirmed that it received credible accusations of abuse of minors by Fr. Gabaráin while he was ministering in Spain.
The Archdiocese opposes all sexual misconduct and is resolute in its support of victims-survivors of abuse.
A music director responded to the Archdiocese’s statement: “I have a big problem with that. I’m not into cancel culture. Frankly, I like some of the music that David Haas has written, but not the man. … It can always move people and their spirituality.”
I can understand why this music director, and perhaps many others, might feel averse to the ban, and perhaps that’s why this reminder was sent out nearly a year after the Gabaráin music banned and two years after Haas was banned. I can also understand the opposition to “cancel culture,” especially as Catholics, who believe in reconciliation and redemption.
However, as a fellow music minister, I ultimately agree with the banning of worship music (used explicitly for the purpose of helping worshipers draw closer to God), when it has been composed by people who have been accused of serious abuse both spiritually and sexually. This is the most pastoral and faithful approach.
From a strictly catechetical point of view, to continue to use their music is to commit the sin of scandal. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines scandal as “an attitude or behavior that causes another to do evil. The person who causes scandal becomes the tempter of his neighbour. or office are obligated to teach and educate others.
It would be scandalous to allow a minister of the faith who has committed serious sins of abuse and manipulation, which violate the teaching of the Church and the dignity of the person, to continue his ministry. Writing songs about love and faith, while serially committing serious violations of that same faith, is sinful and spiritually unhealthy. Allowing these songs to be used in the liturgy is effectively allowing the sins of these composers and it communicates to other abusers that they can continue in their abuse and there will be no significant consequences.
The career successes of these composers have been riddled with abuse of power and manipulation. If their abuse had been exposed sooner, perhaps they would never have become so well known, nor their music so widespread. It makes you wonder how many other talented composers have gone unheard because someone who abused power like Haas got opportunities others didn’t. It is a matter of justice.
Many survivors of abuse, not just those who were allegedly directly abused or assaulted by Haas and Gabaráin, but anyone who lives with sexual trauma and knows the composers were the perpetrators of abuse, can be triggered hearing their songs. Mass is meant to be a refuge. There are many Catholics or former Catholics who have suffered trauma related to clergy abuse that is triggered even by entering a church, let alone attending mass and receiving the sacraments. Word “sets off” is commonly used today, and it is a specific clinical term referring to trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. A trigger is anything that might cause a person to remember a traumatic experience that they experienced and triggered may include panic attacks, flashbacks, dissociation, and other extreme upsets or distress.
As Sophie Vodvarka reported in October 2020, at least 44 allegations of sexual abuse by Haas have been reported, and victims of the abuse have called for his liturgical music to be banned because it retraumatizes them. Mass should be the last place a person should experience or relive trauma, other than remembering the deep suffering the Lord experienced on the cross. And while survivors may find solace or a sense of strength in associating their suffering with that of Christ, there is certainly no need to unnecessarily evoke it at Mass by playing triggering music.
Banning liturgical music from composers who have committed serious abuse is a way to protect victims of abuse and allow the Mass to continue to be a safe space, as the Archdiocese of Los Angeles makes clear in its statement. .
For example, “You Are Mine” (written by Haas, who allegedly used spiritual manipulation to sexually abuse and groom women) is a song written from God’s perspective about keeping someone close, that which could be associated with deep trauma and injury. When we hear music in church, our minds need to be focused on God and not on the hypocrisy of the lyricist or the reminders of abuse and trauma. Does it have a negative impact on Haas’ career to ban his music, since he is still alive? Yes, but these are the consequences of his alleged actions.
Listening to the stories of these survivors, it’s hard to be able to hear songs by these composers and not think about their alleged abuse. While the music director I mentioned suggested that their music “can still move people and their spirituality”, I only see that possible if the listener does a significant amount of compartmentalization and is somehow able to avoid thinking about his abuses, or if he I am unaware of the abuses the composers have committed. Hiding this information is against our faith because our faith is to live in the truth.
For those who have heard of the bans, but have not read the reports of the allegations, perhaps learning more about the experiences of victims of abuse could provide another perspective to see this situation through a lens. simple “cancellation culture”. As uncomfortable as being informed, it is a way to hold space and compassion for those living with a heavy burden of trauma.
As music ministers, the most pastoral thing we can do is respect and respect the expressed needs of those who have survived abuse and exclude songs that may re-traumatize them during liturgy.