Jan 4, 2020

AP: Communities of color vulnerable to abuse from the Catholic Church

In this image, a wooden cross necklace hangs from a bishop's neck.

A cardinal at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, in 2018. Photo: Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Out of 178 dioceses contacted by the AP, only a handful knew the race or ethnicities of accusers of sexual abuse inflicted by clergy with the Catholic Church.

Why it matters: A leading scholar on clergy sexual abuse says communities of color "are less likely to know where to get help, less likely to have money for a lawyer to purse that help and they are more vulnerable to counterattacks" when coming forward against predators.

  • Brian Clites, a professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, said the church has a pattern of sending "predator priests" to communities of color that are disadvantaged, per AP.

A diocese in Alexandria, Louisiana gave the AP a spreadsheet of survivors that withholds names but includes demographics — which help investigative efforts, its victim assistance coordinator, Lee Kneipp, told AP.

  • "Kneipp said knowing the race and ethnicity of victims ... enables a deeper examination of records and the potential ability to find others who have not been acknowledged," per AP.
  • Of the 88 dioceses that responded to AP's investigation, "[s]ome said demographics aren’t relevant, while others cited privacy concerns."

What they're saying:

“They are less likely to know where to get help, less likely to have money for a lawyer to pursue that help and they are more vulnerable to counterattacks."
— Brian Clites, professor and leading scholar on clergy sexual abuse, on communities of color affected by "predator priests"
“It was such a stigma. That is still present now. We haven’t touched the top of the barrel of black victims. There are so many black victims who have not come forward who are suffering in silence because of the stigma.”
— Seattle-based attorney Phillip Aaron, who told the AP his clients include hundreds of African American survivors of clergy abuse
“The church has to come into the shadows, into the trenches to find the people who were victimized, especially the people of color. There are other people like me and my family, who won’t come forward unless someone comes to them. ... I was thinking I have to keep this secret. One, we have to eat and two, we have to stay in school, and this would kill my mom if she knew.”
— Terrence Sample, 58, who told AP he was assaulted for several years by a priest at St. Procopius Catholic school when he was a middle school student

Go deeper... AP: Over 900 clergy accused of child sexual abuse absent from dioceses' lists

Editor's note: This story has been updated for clarity.

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