By Elizabeth K.
I grew up with David Haas. As a member of my congregation, he has always been a part of my church family.
My first memory of David was after the Christmas Eve Mass when I was in 3rd grade (8 years old). As we were leaving the church, I remember my mom saying, “David Haas wants to meet you!” I asked her who he was, and she explained that he was a famous composer, so we waited as he walked over to us. I remember this big, burly man giving me a hug and saying I did a great job and that he was looking forward to seeing me grow up. This has remained a vivid memory of him throughout my life and has always been the starting point of when people ask about him and how I know him. It had been a point of pride that I’ve known him since I was little. That he belonged to MY parish. That he approved of my singing from a young age.
After that, he became a face I recognized in the crowd at church. I grew up primarily attending the 5pm service, but on the off weeks that we attended the 10am, I always looked forward to seeing him. His spot at church was the third row from the front on the left side facing the front of the church. He always sat on the edge of the row at the aisle and as we would go up to the altar for communion, he would always shake people’s hand and say hi with a giant smile. Looking back, it was almost like a line at a meet and greet as we’d be walking up to communion. I was always so excited when he’d say to make sure to stop by and say hi before leaving. He’d always be sitting in his spot at the front of the church, turned, and having conversation with people sitting behind him. You’d have to wait a minute for him to finish talking to turn to you and then he’d reach to hold your hand or would stand up and get a hug. This was just how he acted; this was just David.
For the entirety of my life, he’s been there, sitting in the front, waiting for me to walk down the aisle and meet his eye.
When I was in 7th grade (12 years old) I joined the adult choir at my church with the permission of the choir director. I was finally singing in the choir I loved, that had the best sound I’d ever heard, with my mom and the choir members who had watched me grow up. There were days that I’d feel his eyes on me the entire service, making sure to smile and wave at me, other days he wouldn’t meet my eye. It didn’t phase me much, but I couldn’t ever sense a rhyme or rhythm of it all. He would beckon me over with a curl of his finger at the end of Mass to make sure to give me a hug or say hi and check in with my life. Around this time, he started telling me about Music Ministry Alive! (MMA) repeatedly. How he had started this camp, how the kids who were gifted got to go and how much I’d love it and how excited he was to have another member of his parish there. For the following 3 years I’d tell him repeatedly that I was too young to attend, as you had to be going into 10th grade.
When I was in 8th grade (14 years old), David started inviting me to his Taizé prayers, starting with his special Good Friday Taizé prayer he’d lead at our home parish. It was the only one he’d do at our church, and he invited me to sing with him. I remember how excited and nervous I was. Not only did he invite me to attend and sing as a part of his choir and have a solo, but it was also on my 14th birthday. His wife baked me a cake and brought me a goodie bag and we had a slice before the service in the office of the church. I felt so special to be singled out by him and to have him celebrate with me.
After the service, he asked to take a picture with me in the back of the church and I was so thrilled he wanted to memorialize the day with a photo with me. This is the first photo I have with him, and to this day one of the most distinct moments of the beginning of our mentorship relationship/becoming one of his “adopted children.”
That was the start of my membership of his “Taizé Community.” Later that year he would invite me to one of his fall Taizé prayers that would become a regular part of my Sunday schedule for the next couple years.
This was the first invitation, and as I was looking back on emails with him, the first of dozens of emails I had to forward to my mom so she could figure out addresses, schedules, and availability. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 18, so every Taizé, every Evensong, my mother attended with me. That next spring, he asked for my phone number, and I shared mine and both of my parents’ as well as their emails. But not once in our entire relationship did he ever reach out to my parents or include them in his communication with me. This never phased me, at the time, but his intentional avoidance of including them is a red flag that we never caught.
When I was a freshman in high school (15 years old) I told David about my (then misdiagnosis with) depression and anxiety and asked for prayers. He then told me about his struggles with anxiety as well, and how they had affected his career and touring and gave me an icon of St. Dymphna, who is the patron saint of people with mental disorders, especially anxiety. When I was correctly diagnosed with Bipolar 2 in 11th grade (16 years old), I told David that I was starting meds that would hopefully finally work for me. My mom remembers him making the comment that he “hoped the meds wouldn’t change your personality.” What I know now is that David preyed on women with mental health disorders, those with bad home lives, those with a history of abuse. Looking back, I know that my bipolar allowed me to be easily manipulated, so I was an easy target for his grooming. I’m sure he was hoping he wouldn’t lose his power and sway over me. By 11th grade I had known him for half my life, and I was already well under his influence.
By the time I was finally old enough to join MMA, he made sure I had a full scholarship from our parish to attend. He made sure to check on me to make sure my application was submitted, and I had everything I needed to attend. A week before the camp, my family and I were camping with no access to the internet, and I received a voicemail from David asking if I could pick up another attendee of MMA at the airport and host them at my house the day before MMA. I had missed an email the day before from him:
My parents, being true Midwesterners, extended our hospitality and took her in before MMA. I asked her so many questions and was so excited to have her and learn about MMA before it started.
The night of the opening, he made sure to stand by me during our opening prayer service in the atrium of St. Kate’s and throughout the camp showed me off, like a prized possession. I was so thrilled to be there at the time that I didn’t realize he was sowing resentment among my peers as I was clearly one of his “chosen” while others worked hard to gain his attention and favor that I had built in.
This trend of being one of his “chosen,” his “adopted children” and showing off to my peers that I was special to him continued through all three years that I was at MMA. I have distinct memories of sitting at the table in the lunchroom with my friends at breakfast and lunch and he would come over, put his hand on my shoulder, ask how I was doing and liking camp, and it wasn’t until I had responded that he would address the rest of the table. While he gave me special treatment that I didn’t even fully recognize, I remember harboring a little resentment that it wasn’t until my third and final year at MMA that I was finally asked to sing a special part at the final concert “Sing!”, and even then, I was a part of an 8-person schola and didn’t have a solo. Talking with other former MMA alumni from our time there, multiple have shared their resentment toward me during that time, as they would do anything they could to get his attention while I, who was not even good enough for a solo, was seemingly the apple of his eye.
As you can see in the posts below from a morning service at MMA where I cantored, David took and shared pictures of me that I hadn’t seen beforehand, as well as ones he would curate of the both of us. But the red flag I missed until writing this report was his blatant disrespect for my intentional use of a semi-pseudonym on Facebook. As a minor, one of the stipulations in my household was that I could not post my real name on the internet, but David went ahead and posted my full name for anyone to see on his page instead of just tagging my account. This made my name and likeness public information whether I wanted it to be or not, without my permission. It might have been slightly different if my name was used for some reason in MMA promotional material, but that grainy photo of me singing was by no means official MMA promotional material.
My junior and senior year of high school, I attended college full time. This heavy class load as well as therapy (for my recent diagnosis of Bipolar 2) and competitive speech, meant that my free time was nearly nonexistent. He continued to invite me to Taizé prayers, but I would often leave the emails without a response and hope against hope he wouldn’t email me individually and ask if I could make it, because I would always feel so guilty turning him down and giving (an entirely valid and reasonable) excuse. He seemed to always know what to say the next time I saw him to make me feel like a personal disappointment to him, and to make it clear that he hoped better of me. It made me dread every email he’d send, out of anxiety that he would be asking for my “help” or “talent.”
Upon my high school graduation, it was a no-brainer to invite him to my grad party. As a member of my liturgical family as well as a personal friend and mentor, he was among the first people to receive an invite. I had put together an entire table showing off my shirts, beads, and photos of my time and MMA. He was beside himself with glee that I had created this table and made sure to take photos of it to post on Facebook as well as photos of the two of us and a photo with him, myself, and my mother.
In 2018, I started my bachelor’s degree program in Iowa and while there, I continued to receive emails and Facebook messages from David inviting me to attend and sing at his Taizé prayers. After about a month of receiving his emails at college, I emailed him notifying him that I was out of state and physically couldn’t attend his services. For a short time, he stopped sending me invites, but within a couple months I started receiving them again and I just ignored them all together.
On holidays when I would come home, I would always see him at Mass and we would always talk for a good 5-10 minutes, catching up on my life and how I was doing at college. As a business major, I have been very diligent in how I want to have myself portrayed on social media and have curated my Facebook profile for years now. David was notorious for making a post and tagging 50+ people, forcing me to go through my profile every couple months and spend time un-tagging or hiding posts from my timeline, as I had no interest in sharing my religious affiliation or background on my Facebook. This on top of being perpetually invited to different Facebook groups for information on his latest thoughts, travels, and whatever else he decided he wanted to share, I ended up in a half a dozen or more groups of his, where he would often post the same thing in multiple places, filling up my Facebook timeline, notifications, and email inbox.
All this notwithstanding, I viewed David as a spiritual mentor, someone who was able to connect with God and help make God visible in the world through music. During the fall 2019 I was able to study abroad in Spain for a semester. Before I came back to the US, I spent a week in Switzerland, where I had a kind of “coming to Jesus” experience, which rekindled my willingness to try to reconnect with God through the church. Before I left Switzerland, I emailed two people, the priest who I grew up with, and David Haas. I met with the priest three days after returning from my study abroad and David exactly a week after. I was looking for guidance and support from the two people I viewed as my most trusted and experienced spiritual elders.
David and I met up for lunch at a restaurant a couple blocks from our church in St. Paul. We talked for about two hours. I remember him holding my hands between his. I remember him talking to me about books I should read (which he proceeded to buy for me and mail to my college). I remember him asking about my support group at school, about if I was dating anyone, if I felt alone, if my meds were working right. I responded truthfully, I didn’t have many friends at school, I was single, I had been feeling really alone, but thankfully, my meds were working well. Before I left, he gave me another, much larger icon of St. Dymphna, the patron saint of people with mental disorders, and specifically anxiety. Which stood out to me as odd, as I had told him multiple times that I didn’t have anxiety, I was misdiagnosed with it. But here he was giving me another icon of her. This was the third and final icon David gave me from the time I was 15 to 19. Two were of St. Dymphna, and one was of “Jesus and the Apostle” which was a New Year’s gift going into 2019.
That following semester, spring 2020, I took a class called Images of Jesus and Paul: Then and Now. The main project of the semester was to analyze a person or group who had a specific interpretation of Jesus and Paul. Because of my background with David, and the knowledge that I could interview him, I chose to make him my semester study. We had planned to go out to dinner during my spring break in March for me to interview him, but at the last second, he cancelled, and then completely cut off communication without saying a word. I assumed that the sudden lack of communication was due to COVID, not due to the impending reports and allegations that were to come out about him in the following months. I ended up finishing the project without the interviews, and instead relied heavily on his compositions. The photo above was taken as a visual aid to the presentation I gave. The culmination of the project was two 10-page papers and a presentation. In the conclusion of one of the papers, I wrote:
“This project made me realize that the Jesus I love comes straight out of my hymnal, in songs composed by my friend, David Haas.”
Death By A Thousand Papercuts
One month later, in June 2020, I received an email from Into Account, which was the first point of information about the allegations of sexual assault, harassment, and grooming by David I had ever seen. I remember scanning the email and dismissing it as it didn’t seem to make sense. I had never seen David do any of those things; it didn’t seem to fit his personality, so I dismissed it. Later that week, GIA Publications, the liturgical music publishing house that had published David’s music since the 1970s, made a statement that they had suspended their relationship with David and were no longer publishing any of his new music following reports of sexual misconduct. That evening, a friend of mine from MMA called to make sure I was okay. “I want you to know I’m praying for you and thinking of you. I don’t know if anything happened to you, and I don’t need to know. I saw the post by GIA and knew you were close. I just want you to know that you are in my prayers and aren’t alone.” I told my friend that I was okay, nothing had happened. And it hadn’t. David never did more than give me a kiss on the cheek. I remember discussing with him that it would be interesting to see what other details come to light. That evening I showed the email and the post by GIA to my parents, and we discussed it. The man we thought we knew, the vague allegations, our concerns, and we just came to the conclusion that we’d have to wait for more information.
That summer I worked at a church and every week or two I’d Google his name to see what news had come out. In early July, the National Catholic Reporter published an article based off an interview with three survivors, within the article they also shared a link to a post by Jeanne Cotter, David’s ex-wife, and it was really from her story that all my doubts about the allegations dissolved.
With each new piece of information, each new interview, each new post bringing more information to light truly felt like death by a thousand papercuts. School came around in the fall and while I was disappointed in David, I functioned under the understanding that nothing happened to me, so at least I was okay.
Then the report from Into Account came out. I saw the link from my friend’s Facebook page and read it out of curiosity. It’s disheartening how easy it was to read. There were some passages, some aspects that made my stomach churn, but most of it just felt like David. It was the first time I had ever seen what I had accepted as “normal” broken down and explained as grooming. It was the first time I was able to grasp the scope of the horrors that this man has inflicted on women. That night I found our campus’ therapist’s website and scheduled an appointment with her. I hadn’t been consistently in therapy for about 3 years at this point, but that was about to change.
About a week later, “I Am Mine,” a first-person testimony was shared on Facebook by another friend of mine, so I read it.
If up to this point, reading each new piece of information was death by a thousand paper cuts, then this testimony was being hit at 50 miles per hour in the head by a two-by-four.
I have never felt so utterly lost, broken, betrayed, alone, and hurt in my entire life. The sensation of emptiness in your stomach, an ache in your chest, feeling tears running down your face without noticing them form, chills running down your arms and legs no matter how many sweaters and blankets you have on. The testimony was three parts long. I read through the first section more or less unphased, I understood everything that was being explained, it had happened to me, so what? When I started that second section, I realized just how close I might have been to becoming his next victim. I was one step away. He had groomed me since I was a child, he had played with power dynamics, making me feel special and cared for, he had given me gifts, taken me to lunch and dinner one on one, he had invited me to events, taken pictures with me, posted and shared them, he showed me off like a prized possession. He had not only my trust, but the trust of my entire family and parish. And that was shattered at 1am on a Sunday morning. I cried. I felt empty, alone, broken, betrayed, manipulated, and hurt.
I remember the next night sitting alone at 11pm on a grassy hill overlooking my college’s softball fields on the phone with a friend sobbing. Being hit with the realization I had been at risk of becoming another victim, and didn’t even recognize it, yet a friend who I hadn’t talked to in years and a faceless third-party organization was able to single me out as someone at risk. How had I made it this far, six full months, without that sinking in? My friend reaching out should have been enough. Someone outside of my family seeing the situation and making sure I was okay. That should have been enough of a wakeup call. But how did Into Account know? Was it the posts David made with me? Was it the email chains I was a part of? Did they somehow find his holiday mailing lists? Was it because I went to MMA? Was it because I was a part of his parish? I didn’t know. But realizing that a third party, people I didn’t know, saw I was at risk and had reached out before I even had a clue? That broke me in ways I cannot begin to describe.
I can easily say the next month or so was the worst of my life, and I wasn’t even 21. I couldn’t focus, I would break down crying throughout the day, for the first time in my entire school career I fell behind in my classes. I spent many hours on the phone with my friends from out of state crying, because I was alone at college with almost no support group. I was very fortunate that I told my teachers, and they gave me a lot of grace in trying to get back on my feet.
This horrific, this vivid, this visceral of a response from someone he “only” groomed.
Unfortunately, his betrayal of trust was only the first level for me.
Finding out from a report that you are close friends with a sexual predator as a woman is horrifying. Realizing that you idolized them is gut-wrenching. Coming to grips with the fact you entrusted your spiritual life and religiosity to a man who groomed you since childhood, sexually assaulted numerous women, manipulated, threatened, and coerced so many others? Shakes the core of your very being. While I recognized that David was never perfect, that he was human, that he made mistakes, that is completely different from the malicious, predatory, and intentional behavior David committed over decades. Women have come forward who were my mother’s age. He should have been stopped decades before I was even born.
This is the man I turned to when I profoundly encountered God. When I had the visceral experience of hearing God’s voice, I sought out someone who I trusted, someone who had brought God into the world through his music, someone I called a friend. I turned to someone who masqueraded as a holy man, who put on workshops, ran a religious camp, and was friends with priests who I trusted. Some were unaware of what he was doing to women. Others willfully ignored, and even worse, some actively defended him, put others to shame, blamed, chastised, quieted, minimized, belittled, and doubted those brave enough to step forward and try to stop him. He had over forty years of practice and skill at putting on the exact right mask. I put my full trust, my full heart, my full soul, in the hands of a man who had more power to break me than I could have dreamed of.
“The Jesus I love comes straight out of my hymnal, in songs composed by my friend, David Haas.”
My Jesus, my faith, my religion, my spirituality, was formed, molded, and shaped by this man. It wasn’t only a betrayal of personal trust,
It was a complete shattering of my God.
I spent the majority of my free time in my campus chaplain’s office or with the school counselor that semester. Just trying to keep my head above water, trying to figure out how to move forward after the core of my beliefs had been left in ruins.
I remember walking into my bedroom for the first time since leaving for college in the fall and seeing David everywhere. Books he had bought me, letters I had pinned to my bulletin board going back to when I was 15, signed CDs he had given me, MMA pictures and name tags I had on my walls and desk, but the worst were the giant icons he had given me over the course of the three years previous. There was no place I could hide them or get them out of sight. I grabbed a plastic bag and got rid of everything. Every single thing I could find that he had given me, and I handed the bag to my mom to get rid of. I needed it all gone. After my mom took the bag away, I curled in a ball on my bed and cried.
Why was there nowhere I could turn? Why was my bedroom, my sanctuary, crawling with him? How had I gotten this deep in?
Why did gifts need to hurt?
When he gave me gifts, I trusted that they were a conduit for finding God. David repeatedly gave me an icon. An icon of a saint he seemingly aimed to depict as an “ideal,” as a “role model.” He gave me not one, but two icons of St. Dymphna, as well as cards with her image on the front, and loose images of her.
I mentioned that St. Dymphna is a patron saint of people with mental disorders, especially anxiety but I think it’s worth going into a little more detail about why, in retrospect,
His repeatedly giving me St. Dymphna icons was one of the most forward threats he could have ever given.
On the back of the large St. Dymphna icon pictured above is a small write up about the saint by Building Bridge Images, Inc. who made the icon. The page reads:
“According to Irish lore, St. Dymphna was the daughter of a pegan Celtic chieftain and a Christian mother. Dymphna, also a Christian, was only fourteen years old when her mother died. Following her mother’s death, her grieving father became mentally afflicted and formed an immoral passion for Dymphna, who closely resembled her beautiful mother. Appalled by her father’s advances, Dymphna fled from her home in Ireland to the village of Geel near Antwerp in Belgium. There she devoted herself to caring for the poor and the sick. But her troubled father soon followed and, again unsuccessful in gaining the affections of his daughter, he drew his sword and struck off her head.
In the centuries since her martyrdom, Dymphna has become lovingly known as the patron of those living with mental and nervous disorders. Many attribute miracles to the intercession of St. Dymphna and pilgrims regularly visit the shrine which houses her tomb in Geel.”
When I received them, I saw David giving me the icons of St. Dymphna as a reminder that there are intercessors who can help me in my times of struggle. That in mental illness there can be God. I can honestly say I might have read the back of the icon maybe once upon receiving it. I didn’t quite follow or care about the story, so I just let it exist and I had an icon from someone who cared about me hang in my room for years. It was a reminder that David too, had anxiety and depression and we could both find solace in prayer.
In the light of all the information I have learned in the past year, these icons truly exemplify his proficiency in spiritual abuse.
He made St. Dymphna’s story ours.
David, who was a part of my spiritual family, decided to repeatedly bring a story of incest into our relationship. He shared this story while simultaneously calling me one of his “adopted children” while going by the name “Papa Bear” in public circles with others my age. He felt comfortable knowing that someday I could put these pieces together. That I would be able to look back in horror at the breadcrumbs he left along the way.
He took this story and continuously brought it into my life, knowing that someday I’d come to realize that I was supposed to be Dymphna, and he was supposed to be my father.
David, who knew what he was doing, who spent over a decade grooming me from childhood, through my teen years, and early adulthood tried to pass off his actions as “troubled.”
Depression and anxiety do not cause anyone to groom a child. No mental illness other than sociopathy can begin to touch this level of selfishness and lack of respect of the holy dignity of the human soul. He continues to parallel the story, setting me up for his advances through my life, and making it clear repeatedly that if he were to come on to me, if he were to make advances, that if I ever spoke up, if I ever turned him down, that he would, at least figuratively, behead me.
After everything I’ve read, I’ve come to understand that if I had worked in the church, or God forbid, in liturgical music, and I had turned down or spoke up about any advances he could have made, he could have done everything in his power to end my career. He could have done to me what he has done to numerous other survivors in his sphere. He could go out of his way to ruin my career. To ruin me. To make me unlovable for anyone else. To scar me. Hurt me. To convince me I was worthless. To make it clear that he could ruin my spiritual life, my ability to attend church, to pray. He could take away everything that made me feel whole. Women brave enough to have stepped forward before me have detailed these situations, these emotions, these conclusions. And he may not have hesitated to add me to that list.
Now, the back of the icon reads like a decoded puzzle. When I strip away the facade of good intentions, I realize that the icons weren’t meant as a conduit for finding God, unless God is David Haas. David didn’t write these literal words. But now this is all I can read:
New Years 2020
St. Dymphna- the patron saint of those who suffer with depression and anxiety
I, David, as your adopted father, have unholy longing for you. If you deny me, tell anyone, I will break you and make sure you never ever recover.
Here is a picture of my smiling face, to remind you of our relationship, and how you make me smile.”
From the age of 14 David made his intentions known, his response known, his threat known. Even though it went over our heads at the time, like so much else, the realization sends shivers down my spine.
He turned a literally sanctified story into a clear threat.
If this isn’t spiritual abuse, then by God, I don’t know what is.
It took another 5 months for me to finish finding other paraphernalia he had given me strewn about my room. A book he had given me here, a letter I had tucked in with birthday cards there, a CD that had been further down the stash. Looking back, I made the right decision, getting rid of everything I could so that I could feel safe. So, I could breathe. But man, wouldn’t I love to share some of the letters he wrote to me with you. The letters he wrote to a 15, 16, 17-year-old girl when he was 58, 59, 60. Hearing that I was beautiful, and special. That he thought of me and prayed for me every day. The pride that those letters gave me, to the point of displaying them on my bulletin for years, to be thrown in the trash because those words, that handwriting, gave me fear. Fear at the realization that it was all a means to an end. And I didn’t know what that end would have been for me.
Time passed, therapy helped, David was off social media, and he was no longer a part of my daily psyche. In the weeks before I graduated from college, I reached out to two of my friends from MMA, the friend who reached out to me the day GIA made their announcement, and Natalie, who had been vocal on Facebook about everything that was coming out, sharing the report and stories, who has since come forward as another survivor. Both were kind enough to talk with me for hours about how the ways they worship have changed, their faith, their belief in Catholicism, their spirituality. It was fascinating and healing to have conversations with others who had managed to stay faithful, when I have accepted that it will be years until my profound distrust of religious institutions might begin to lessen. The conversations were holy, filled with love, and support. It was an amazing way to recalibrate a year after GIA made their post. To find community and hope in my peers.
On June 8, 2021, as I was leaving work from my first professional job, I saw in my notifications an email titled “Hi Elizabeth – from David Haas” from a new email address, zolapsalm37[at]gmail.com. In the preview of the email, I saw “Hi Elizabeth, David Haas here…” and I started hyperventilating. My hands were shaking as I shoved my phone in my purse, walked as fast as I could out to my car, locked the doors and tried to calm down before I opened the email.
I felt nauseous. Like someone had kicked me as hard as they could in my stomach then threw me to the ground. I felt like I was going to cry. I was horrified.
Without context it was just another email from him. But the context that a year can give. I texted my two friends who I had called not a month earlier and told them that he had contacted me. All I knew was that if I was having that bad of a reaction for someone he never actually assaulted, I didn’t want to imagine how someone else could be hurt by an email like this. I sent a screenshot of the email to my friend Natalie who I knew was in contact with Into Account and other survivors, so that they could block his email before he had the gumption to reach out to them as well.
I did everything I could to avoid processing the email he had sent. Why he had sent it. What it meant. I sent it forward, I had done my duty. But that didn’t stop me from being overwhelmed at work to the point of crying. I think I cried 8 times that week at random points in the day at work. Suddenly, a memory of him would come flooding back and I couldn’t stop the wave of emotions overtaking my body. I was so thankful that I work alone in my office so no one was there to question why I was crying. The breakdowns at work didn’t stop for months. They became more infrequent, but they never stopped.
Thankfully forwarding on that email had positive repercussions. With my permission, another survivor forwarded the email to Alec Harris, the CEO of GIA Publications, David’s former publisher. Alec, who has a daughter my age, told Into Account that he was sickened by the email. Within a few weeks, he sent the following email to all the dioceses in the U.S.
With no other action by me than forwarding David’s email to my friend who in turn forwarded it to Into Account, GIA cemented the severing of their relationship with him. They removed his music, books, and recordings from their catalog and website. Not only this, but they reached out to every diocese in America and actively discouraged the use of his music, in order to protect all those he hurt. Because of the email I received, at least a handful more dioceses have banned or discouraged the use of his music in any services.
GIA hoped that as an organization with a lot to lose, their decision to stop selling David’s music would send a signal to others that the allegations were serious. I think it was a stepping stone, for some churches, some choir directors and parish administrators. But his music is still played across the country by hundreds if not thousands of churches. And the only people who can protect survivors from his music are the parish administrators, priests, and bishops.
I think everyone hoped that the report, the allegations would scare David into hiding, never to be seen in the world again. But instead in just less than a year, (by a week) David reached out to me, kept grooming me. It was a kick start toward permanent action because David is still a threat. And he won’t stop. After over 40 years, he has learned that he can always make a comeback.
But not with me. He may make a comeback with other people. But he will never be welcomed back into my life.
All of this happened, and no one knew my name. No one knew who I was or his decades long relationship with me. Yet that email with the context of dozens of other women’s stories was more than enough.
It had been a month and a half since David emailed me when I got the letter from GIA to the dioceses forwarded to me out of the blue by my friend. The experience of reading it really struck me in a way nothing else had until that point. That I was the final straw. I was the ambiguous “young woman.” I was glad that sharing my email made a difference. That it might help stop some future harm from being done. But it came at the realization that I was another. That my entire existence, my entire story, had been boiled down to being “a young woman.” Until that point and for a while after, I didn’t want my name out there. I didn’t want the world to know who I was. My story was just that of someone in his sphere, someone who grew up with him. But the more that came out of that email, the more I came to understand that email and how he viewed me, the more certain I became that I needed to reach out. To say my two cents. If my testimony could help anyone else come forward like I did, then it will be more than worth it.
It wasn’t until August, two months after I received the email, that I finally felt ready and reached out to Into Account and met with them to share my story.
Our zoom call was devastating and beautiful.
Having people I didn’t know bear witness to my testimony, believe me, understand me, support me. For the first time since I received their email in 2020, I felt like I had power again. That I finally knew where I stood in response to the entire situation. That his impact on me was real, even though I couldn’t see it from the beginning.
There were two realizations from that meeting that still hurt me to think about.
The first is that David was certain, absolutely certain that I was within his grasp. That after everything that had come out, everything I’d heard, that I’d still be on his side. He thought the risk-to-reward ratio of him sending me an email, a year after it all, was still in his favor. This is devastating. Coming to realize that he still thought I was in his inner circle.
I want to remind you, I’m 21 when I’m writing this. Actually, today is my half birthday, so I’m officially 21 and a half. He sent this email to me two months after I turned 21. I don’t work in liturgical music; I don’t even work at a church anymore. He has no professional power over me. I gain nothing from sharing this with you, no professional retribution, nothing tangible. What interest did he have in me? What did he have to gain? What were his hopes? His goals? His plans for me?
Was I next?
The second thing I took away from that meeting is that the email I got from Into Account that fateful day in June 2020, was asked to be sent to me by someone I hadn’t thought of or seen in years. Into Account hadn’t somehow found an email chain or a mailing list; they didn’t know I had gone to MMA or was from his parish. They didn’t find me through research, looking for possible survivors. No, someone whose job it was to take care of me and hundreds of other kids like me, knew that I could have been hurt by David. Someone we trusted to take care of us. Someone we all looked up to. Knew that I should have gotten that email. That I was at risk, while under their care. That I could be a victim. And they were able to remember my name, find my email, and send it to Stephanie, the director of Into Account. While I’m glad they had enough self-awareness to send Stephanie the email, to try to make up for the years of letting things pass unsaid,
How are you supposed to reconcile with the realization that people saw you in harm’s way, and did nothing?
Not only that, but they were able to see that you were targeted, by a man who was known to cause harm, and did nothing. Said nothing. Protected no one. How are you supposed to come to grips with the fact that you were in the eye of the storm, and others saw the hurricane blowing around you and didn’t say a word of warning, but left you there, alone, to suffer the consequences of David Haas.
What Hurts The Most
It wasn’t until I received the email from David that I realized that I, too, am a victim. And it wasn’t until months later that I formally came forward to Into Account, taking upon the undesirable title of “youngest known survivor.” And still months after that until I wrote this and officially shared my story with the world.
I knew before my story came out, that I wanted my home parish, our home parish, to know it was coming. The parishioners have been my family since baptism. The choir especially. Each one helped raise me. They were my role models and mentors as I attended my mom’s practices as a small child and warmed up with them before the 10am mass. One of the members was even my Confirmation sponsor. As an altar server from the age of 9 until 15, I knew the names of almost everyone at the 5pm service. I served at Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter for multiple years in a row. This church has been my home, my safety, and my retreat, for my entire life. I felt it was the right thing to warn the priest and administration that I was coming forward. While I don’t mention the name of the parish in this report, with not only my name, but also my face, any parishioner will know it’s me.
I later told my parents that the meetings went about as neutrally as could be expected for a discussion about a man who sexually assaulted dozens of women and has had over 50 women step forward against him in the past year.
I was wrong. There is no neutral position you can take when someone steps forward in any arena, saying they’ve been harmed. The only moral position to take is one of support and reassurance. If you respond any other way, you have become an accomplice to their harm through hurtful action or inaction.
I don’t blame my parish for him being there. I don’t blame my parish for my being raised with him. I don’t blame them for MMA, or his workshops or his influence on my life.
But their silence on the topic of David Haas was the most ostracizing experience of all. From the parish I considered home.
The choir director emailed me this summer and asked if I wanted to join the adult choir now that I’m out of college. I left the email unanswered for over a week, trying to muster up the courage to schedule a meeting with them, the priest, and the parish administrator. In the meantime, my mom spoke with the parish administrator about an unrelated subject, and the administrator mentioned that they stopped playing David’s music last year if that made a difference if I’d return or not.
They stopped playing David’s music last year if that made a difference.
They never made an announcement. They never made a statement. They never let anyone know that his music wouldn’t be played. No survivor was given the assurance that they would be able to attend worship there without his music causing them to spiral. They just expected that their decision to stop using his music would be enough. The only reason I know this is because the parish administrator mentioned it to my mom, not knowing if that made a difference.
For many survivors, that’s enough. Knowing that they will be able to worship there without his music is enough.
But he has always been a member of my parish.
He has always attended Christmas, and Easter, and any Sundays he could make. He has always sat on the aisle of the third row. He has always been there.
When I met with the priest and parish administrator, I warned them that this report was coming out, and neither seemed worried. “If people want to talk with us about it, we welcome it. But I doubt that will happen. There hasn’t been much discussion about it in the church. Those that know, know. But it seems like most of the parishioners don’t even know about everything that’s come out.”
See, for me, more than just living in the fear that his music could be used during our worship, I am in the unique situation where if I were to attend a service, David could be there.
The fear I have of running into him at church has completely severed my ability to worship there.
As far as anyone in the parish knows,
He’s still a welcome parishioner.
He could attend any mass, any workshop, any event.
He is still welcome there.
I mentioned to the priest and administrator that as long as he is welcome there, I will never be able to attend service. I understand. Them making a statement against him could split our already small parish. But you’d think, as a liberal parish, one that has baptized children of same-sex couples, they could make a statement, letting survivors know, their parishioners know, that they believe the reports made by numerous women against a famous member of their congregation. That they could say out loud, “Because of these accusations, we have decided to stop using his music. We do this to show love and compassion for those he’s hurt.” But instead, they made the decision behind closed doors, quietly. If they made even that simple statement, like the Archdioceses of Los Angeles, and Boston; like the Dioceses of San Jose, California, and Venice, Florida. It would be clear to everyone in the parish, and to David himself, that he is not welcome there.
But instead, “He hasn’t attended a service here since before everything came out. You should be safe here. At the very least, he always attended the 10am, so as long as you don’t attend that service you should be fine.”
He took photos with me at the Christmas service in 2019 right in front of the altar. Am I not safe to attend Christmas? Easter? The two most holy days in the church?
As the leaders of the parish, you ask me to be in the choir, which only sings at 10am, and at the same time are able to articulate that that exact service would be when I’m most at risk of his return?
You make our church, this sacred space, safe for the return of a man who has harmed countless women. Safe for him, at the cost of at least one parishioner, who was baptized and raised there, had made a home there, at the cost that she would never feel safe stepping through those doors ever again.
It hurts. It hurts so much. To know that I’ll never be able to sing with the choir again. To attend Easter Vigil, my favorite service of the church year. With the Easter fire, the candles, the readings and psalms, the Easter fount, the canticle of the saints.
It hurts to know that I will never be able to find God in that space again.
“As far as we know, nothing has happened on church grounds, and you’re the first person from our parish to come forward.”
You wonder why it took me 15 months from receiving the first email from Into Account to the day I met with you, the leaders of my church. You witnessed the last time I might ever step on the grounds of our church’s campus. After a year has now passed from the initial report’s release, you have yet to make a statement.
As the leaders of the church he calls home, I would think you have the most responsibility to your parishioners of any in the nation. To let them know they’re safe from David Haas and his music. That you are taking care of them.
Instead by your silence. Not inaction. Your silence. You have caused harm. And you have made it clear to a man who has made his way through the past 40 years with the knowledge that silence works in favor of the perpetrator, that you have his side.
I know the members of the choir love and care about me. The choir director. The parishioners. I know they’re my family.
But their love doesn’t stop him from walking in the front door.
No one is responsible for the actions of David Haas but himself. But there are many, many individuals who could have stopped him along the way. Who could have spoken up. Whose silence allowed him to continue to groom, assault, and abuse over the span of decades. And there are many out there who don’t think that they need to speak up about the issue.
To those who say “Women should report right away. They shouldn’t wait”: you’ve just read almost 10,000 words of me detailing over a decade of grooming and abuse which took me over a year to process and recognize as such. After all you’ve read, do you question my status as someone he harmed, as a survivor of his manipulation, spiritual abuse, grooming? The process of recognizing, processing, and validating experiences of trauma doesn’t happen overnight. Not for victims of 9/11. Not for soldiers. Not for victims of shootings. Not for victims of rape. Traumatic experiences can happen in a moment. Or they can accumulate over a lifetime to come crashing down around you in a moment of recognizing the danger you were in for decades. That doesn’t mean the trauma isn’t there.
To my fellow survivors out there: Take your time. You’re loved. I believe you. And others will too. Be kind to yourself. Your trauma is real, even if it takes time to recognize it.
To those who say, “We haven’t heard reports from our parish yet, so we will be okay staying silent”: You are speaking loud and clear to every survivor of his grooming and abuse. That your church is not a place where they can feel safe in worship, because they could be blindsided by your use of his music. That you don’t put any merit or value in other reports because they aren’t from someone you know personally. That it never happened because it didn’t happen to you.
To those who say, “Separate the art from the artist,” and “His songs are cherished by our congregation: They are beautiful and speak of a loving and merciful God.” Read Brenna Cronin’s story. Read Margaret Hillman’s story. Watch the public service announcement video with seventeen survivors. Grapple with how he used his music to spiritually manipulate and abuse.
To those of you who ask, “Why isn’t he in jail?”: This man had over forty years of training from numerous priests and mentors on how to get away with as much as you can without ever crossing the line of illegality. How to manipulate. How to touch. How to talk. How to act. How to groom. He isn’t in jail because he was trained to be smarter than to get caught. He isn’t in jail because when people spoke up, they were quieted. He isn’t in jail because the statutes of limitations have passed. He isn’t in jail because we didn’t believe the reports when people first stepped forward.
I beg of you. You’ve read this narrative. Let it sink in:
David Haas is still an active threat.
He is still grooming. He still feels comfortable pushing boundaries. Testing waters. Seeing if he can get away with one more thing. Maintain his hold over one more person.
To those who say, “I’m not a parish administrator. I’m not a priest or bishop. There’s nothing I can do”: Your time, your talent, your tithing, your worship takes place at a parish, in a diocese or archdiocese. Many survivors have to change their home parish, or are unable to worship in most dioceses because his music is still allowed to be used. Your. Voice. Matters. Sit on the parish council. Have conversations. Share survivor’s testimonies. Talk with other parishioners. Talk with your choir director. Talk with your administrators. While you may not be able to make change alone, together we make up the parish, the diocese. If you have the choice to stay while survivors can’t, it is now your responsibility to make it safe to welcome them back home. Together we can take care of each other.
My story is far from over, hell, I’m only 21. But hopefully, by speaking up, by speaking out, it will be clear to others, and to David, that I am not afraid. I am not afraid to tell my story. I am not afraid to share the damage he has done. I am not afraid to reclaim every ounce of power he once had over me. I am not afraid to speak up for myself and for others when they are in harm’s way. I am not afraid to ask for help, support, guidance, care, and love.
I am whole.
I am holy.