Catholic Churches Drop Hymns After Accusations Against Composer

Several Roman Catholic archdioceses have banned a well-known liturgical composer from performing in their churches and many others have stopped playing his music after dozens of women accused him of sexual misconduct and harassment over more than 40 years.

The allegations against the composer, David Haas, 63, include harassment and cyberstalking, lewd propositions, forced kissing and groping, and other unwanted sexual behavior, according to accusations from 38 women compiled by Into Account, a survivor advocacy group. The New York Times interviewed six of the women.

Many of the women were musicians or aspiring liturgical composers who considered Mr. Haas a mentor and said they feared professional retaliation if they spoke out earlier. One described him as a “rock star in the Catholic liturgical realm” who created his own rules.

After multiple women approached Into Account with allegations, the organization emailed a letter to church leaders, publishers and some of his liturgical peers in May, said Stephanie Krehbiel, the group’s executive director, who added that women continued to come forward.

No criminal or civil complaints have been filed, but around a third of the 32 American archdioceses say they have stopped playing Mr. Haas’s music, after being alerted to the allegations in June by the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul, where he lives. Some were still issuing guidance to local parishes as recently as last week.

The composer has declined repeated interview requests from The Times through his lawyer. After first telling Catholic news outlets that the accusations were “false, reckless and offensive,” Mr. Haas posted an apology on his website in July. “In offering this sincere apology, I realize many may assume that all allegations made against me are true,” he wrote. “I take this risk without hesitation, because I truly want to apologize for the harmful things I have actually done.”

The accusations have upended the close-knit world of Christian liturgical music. Mr. Haas is known for contemporary compositions, including “Blest Are They,” “We Are Called” and “You Are Mine,” featured in popular hymnals across denominations.

“There’s practically not a hymnal in existence that doesn’t include Haas songs and Mass settings,” said Peter Kwasniewski, a Catholic theologian and sacred music composer. “It’s no exaggeration to say that he helped shape the post-Vatican II musical landscape in the U.S.A.”

Since the allegations, prominent liturgical publishers OCP and GIA Publications have cut ties with him. His music has also been pulled from the latest edition of “Voices Together,” a Mennonite hymnal.

One accuser, Susan Bruhl, 54, told The Times that she first met Mr. Haas, then in his mid-20s, when he was music director for her parish, St. Thomas Aquinas in St. Paul Park, Minn.

“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,” she said.

Mr. Haas spent a lot of time at her home while she was in high school, she said, and shortly after her graduation in 1984, he asked her out to lunch for a belated 18th birthday celebration. He took her to a Mexican restaurant next to a Red Roof Inn and ordered her several large margaritas.

After the meal he pulled her in for a hug and said, “I’ve got a room for us, let’s continue the party, you’re a woman now and this will bring us closer together,” Ms. Bruhl recalled. She turned him down.

At the time, she confided in a cousin, who confirmed to The Times being told about it.

“I certainly thought I was the only one, so I buried it in shame and self-loathing and doubt of my perception,” she said. “I saw him as a big brother.”

Another woman, Bex Gaunt, 32, had been singing Mr. Haas’s music long before she met him as a teenager at Music Ministry Alive, a music camp in St. Paul, Minn., that Mr. Haas founded in 1999. She attended the camp for three years and worked on staff for six, she said.


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