Black Survivors Of The US Catholic Clergy Sexual Abuse Problem Are Almost Nonexistent. Black middle schooler Richardson alleges that he was sexually assaulted by Rev. Henry Zerhusen, a charismatic white cleric, in the 1970s.
Zerhusen’s parish, St. Ambrose, was a fixture in Baltimore’s Park Heights neighborhood, which was then experiencing the effects of white flight and rapidly becoming majority-Black.
Black Survivors Of The US Catholic Clergy Sexual Abuse Problem Are Almost Nonexistent. Richardson kept the abuse a secret, a common experience for survivors of sexual abuse.
However, cases of clergy abuse among African Americans are especially underreported, according to experts.
Black survivors like Richardson have been nearly invisible in the Catholic Church sexual abuse crisis, even in Baltimore, home to a historic Black Catholic community that plays an integral role in the nation’s oldest archdiocese.
The U.S. Catholic Church generally does not publicly track the race or ethnicity of clergy abuse victims, which allows the full scope of clergy sex abuse and its effects on communities of color to be unknown.
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office released a scathing report on child sex abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore, documenting more than 600 abuse cases but leaving out any context about race.
Ray Kelly, a lifelong Catholic and chair of the pastoral council at St. Peter Claver, a Black parish in west Baltimore, has accused the Baltimore Archdiocese of failing to address racial disparities, a trend that extends beyond the clergy abuse crisis. Kelly cited the Catholic Church’s long history of treating African Americans like second-class citizens, beginning with the founding of the Oblate Sisters of Providence in 1829.
The archdiocese now lists at least five Josephite priests as credibly accused of abuse.
Kelly argued that the Americanized Catholic Church still sees the Black population as a perpetual charity case, and predators will go where the prey is — Black communities relying on the church for support.
The archdiocese’s Office of Black Catholic Ministry works to lift up Catholic social teaching related to the dignity of the human person and ensure worship is inclusive of the scope of the Catholic culture.
Abuse also came from within the Black community, with some of the archdiocese’s few Black Catholic leaders accused of sexually abusing at least 10 boys under 18.
In 2002, a young Black man named Dontee Stokes shot a Baltimore priest, Blackwell, after he refused to apologize.
The shooting became a defining event in Baltimore’s mishandling of clergy sex abuse claims, just as the scope of the crisis was breaking open in Boston. Stokes was later acquitted of attempted murder and served 18 months of home detention for gun charges.
Blackwell had reported the abuse nearly a decade before the shooting, but police never filed charges. Cardinal William Keeler, then Baltimore’s archbishop, returned Blackwell to ministry against the advice of an independent review board.
In 1998, Blackwell was removed from ministry after another victim came forward. Only after the 2002 shooting that Blackwell was formally laicized and criminally charged.
Despite being convicted of three counts of child sexual abuse, he was granted a new trial because of the “improper testimony about possible other victims.” Prosecutors ultimately declined to retry him.
Another of Blackwell’s victims, who received a settlement from the archdiocese, spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing being ostracized from his community if he publicly discussed his abuse.