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Catholic composer David Haas banned following decades of sexual abuse

For decades, Catholics in parishes across the U.S. and around the world—along with some Protestants—have sung “You Are Mine” and other hymns composed by liturgical music “rock star” David Haas, who has written hundreds of hymns and authored more than 30 music collections and 20 books.

But now, a growing number of dioceses have banned his music following complaints from dozens of women about claims of sexual harassment—including cyberstalking, lewd propositions, forced kissing, and groping—that date back more than 40 years.

Haas has a gift for combining theological messages and beautiful melodies. But the former campus minister and “international advocate for the role of young people in the life of the church” apparently hid a darker side.

Haas was skilled at selecting and grooming young, female victims, according to some of the more than three dozen victims who have come forward in recent months.

“David has this uncanny knack of finding girls who don’t have fathers at home, who may have come from an abusive background or were neglected,” a victim from nearly 40 years ago told The New York Times. “I certainly thought I was the only one, so I buried it in shame and self-loathing and doubt of my perception.”

As the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis recently acknowledged, a young woman complained in 1987 that Haas made unwanted sexual advances. But nothing slowed his career. He founded Music Ministry Alive!, which his Amazon author page describes as “an international liturgical music formation effort that has reached thousands of high school and college age youth since 1999.”

Many of Haas’s victims—some as young as 14—attended Music Ministry Alive! gatherings to seek out his professional and spiritual guidance. Today, some of these women work as parish music directors or cantors. One described experiencing a panic attack when her church sang one of Haas’s songs.

The decades of silence were broken in May when Into Account, a survivor advocacy group, said it had received nearly a dozen claims. Now, 38 women have made claims against Haas.

In a June statement provided to Catholic media, Haas originally called the claims “false, reckless and offensive,” saying he was “sad and disappointed that Into Account Inc. chose to use social media- a public forum- to deprive him of a fair and legitimate venue to face his accusers, but instead launched a marketing effort with the mission to destroy his reputation and livelihood.”

But by July, Haas had changed his tune.

In recent days, through a lot of prayer and reflection, I have come to realize that I have caused great harm to a variety of people,” he said in a written apology. “I take responsibility for my behavior and I am truly sorry.”

“In offering this sincere apology, I realize many may assume that all allegations made against me are true,” he continued. “At this stage in my path to greater insight, I take this risk without hesitation because I truly want to apologize for the harmful things I have actually done.”

About a third of the U.S.’s 32 dioceses have prohibited the singing of Haas’s music, and liturgical publishers OCP and GIA Publications have cut their ties with the composer. GIA’s bestselling hymnal, “Gather,” includes a number of Haas compositions. Some of his songs also appear in Methodist and Mennonite hymnals.

For seven years, Haas was married to fellow liturgical musician Jeanne Cotter, who says Haas forcibly kissed her when she was 16.

“He was able to draw around him a community that has enabled him,” Cotter told The New York Times. “In the end, the faithful in the pews become a kind of victim because their trust has been betrayed.”

Steve Rabey

Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.