Twin Cities musician David Haas, one of the best-known music composers in the Catholic Church nationally, has been accused of sexual misconduct toward multiple young women who studied with him over the years.
Composer, performer and teacher, Haas taught at Benilde-St. Margaret’s school in St. Louis Park, was composer-in-residence at the St. Paul Seminary, and ran a Music Ministry Alive program for years at St. Catherine University. He’s also traveled the nation and the world giving workshops and performing.
The stellar career ground to a halt earlier this year when a Kansas-based victim’s advocacy group publicized several allegations of abuse of young women under his tutelage. The organization, called Into Account, notified a network of liturgical music groups about the allegations, and organizations such as the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis halted the use of his music at archdiocese events; longtime music publisher GIA Publications in Chicago suspended its ties. Haas has not been charged with any offense.
“Haas has allegedly targeted multiple women using techniques that abuse prevention experts identify as grooming to create conditions in which women felt obligated to perform sexual favors in exchange for professional opportunities,” Into Account director Stephanie Krehbiel said in a letter to Catholic organizations.
“His generosity, we are told, often came with a sexual price tag,” she said.
Haas, 63, director of the Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry, initially denied the allegations in a statement, calling them “false, reckless and offensive.”
But on July 9 he issued a written statement:
“I have come to realize that I have caused great harm to a variety of people,” Haas said. “I make no excuses for any harm that I may have caused. I take responsibility for my behavior and I am truly sorry.”
For the vast community of musicians who perform in churches and other religious settings, even beyond the Catholic Church, the events have been surprising. Haas has composed some of the best known contemporary Christian songs, such as “Blest Are They,” “You are Mine” and “We Are Called” — standards at masses, funerals and community events.
“He was a rock star in the liturgical world,” said Bex Gaunt, director of music and liturgy at St. Catherine University, who alleged she suffered workplace harassment when she worked as an intern for Haas in 2011.
“After Vatican II ... there was suddenly a new market for church music. Haas was like a pioneer in the Catholic publishing world, filling up our hymn books,” she said.
Susan Bruhl, 54, is among the more than 30 women alleging misconduct by Haas. She sang with his musical group, called Emmaus, when she was a teenager in the early 1980s. Haas spent a lot of time with her mom and siblings at their home in Newport back then, she said.
After she graduated, the composer invited her to lunch to celebrate her 18th birthday. He ordered several “jumbo margaritas” for her, she said. When they left the restaurant, Haas “kind of strongholded me” and began walking her to the hotel next door, she alleged.
“He said something like, ‘You’re a woman now. Let’s continue the party,’ ” said Bruhl, who now lives in Hawaii.
“I’ve talked to other women at Into Account,” she added. “He’d seek women who came from single-parent families or didn’t have a strong male presence.”
The archdiocese posted on its website that it received its first report of sexual misconduct against Haas in 1987, a complaint “alleging that David Haas had made an unwelcome sexual advance toward a young adult woman.” Haas denied the allegation, and the archdiocese did not take action.
In 2018, the archdiocese received two reports from another diocese that Haas acted inappropriately with two adult women.
Both women complained that Haas’ conduct made them feel uncomfortable. Haas denied those allegations.
The archdiocese later informed Haas that it would not provide him with a letter of recommendation that he had requested.
“Furthermore, we informed Haas that he was not allowed to provide services at Catholic institutions in the archdiocese without disclosure of these complaints,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “Unless we receive other information, we will continue this course of action.”
Krehbiel called the archdiocese response “inadequate.’’ Given Haas’ public stature, and his interactions with people across the nation, she said, it should have at least informed the public about the allegations.
Catholic institutions, meanwhile, continue to respond to the allegations. The University of St. Thomas rescinded the Distinguished Alumni Award given to David Haas in 1995 and is no longer playing his music. The National Association of Pastoral Musicians rescinded its 2004 Pastoral Musician of the Year award.