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Abuse lawsuit dropped against former Black parish priest in New Orleans

Fr John Asare-Dankwah, former pastor of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in New Orleans, in 2019. (Times-Picayune)

The former pastor of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in New Orleans has agreed to drop his countersuit against the man who said he was raped by the priest nearly 15 years ago.

The defendant, who sued the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 2021 concerning the alleged incident with Fr John Asare-Dankwah, also committed to dropping his suit in a joint motion by December 22, according to the Times-Picayune.

The Ghanaian-born priest has been under heavy scrutiny since the revelation of the allegation last year, which was followed by an FBI investigation this summer into whether abuser priests in the archdiocese transported victims across state lines.

The alleged 2008 encounter with Asare-Dankwah—then pastor of Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in New Orleans—was at one point said by his accuser, known only as A.A. Doe in court documents, to have taken place during an overnight youth retreat in Alabama. (The alleged location was later amended to Ponchatoula, Louisiana.)

An additional FBI investigation revealed in November concerns whether Asare-Dankwah engaged in financial misconduct during his time as pastor of St. Peter Claver, a historic African-American parish in Tremé, the nation’s oldest Black neighborhood.

His tenure there began in 2008, shortly after the time the alleged child sex abuse occurred, and an accounting firm found that over the years, he mishandled more than $360,000 of church funds. Asare-Dankwah was suspended from ministry at the onset of the abuse lawsuit, after which the irregularities were discovered.

Since shortly after the priest’s removal, the parish has been headed by a pastoral team including Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri III, OFM and Fr Ajani Gibson, though Cheri has been sidelined with health issues since earlier this year.

Concerning the alleged abuse, Asare-Dankwah filed a countersuit in 2021 alleging defamation and invasion of privacy. As seen in a number of high-profile cases involving clergy sex abuse, a group of parishioners at St. Peter Claver mounted a campaign of support for Asare-Dankwah, creating a website and promotional video asserting the priest’s innocence.

As of early as this summer, however, Asare-Dankwah was no longer incardinated in the archdiocese but remained in the United States. As reported in The Guardian, the priest was also not in communication with chancery officials as of this fall.

Separate from the Asare-Dankwah’s case is the archdiocese’s ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, filed in May 2020 concerning a litany of accusations concerning clergy sex abuse since the mid-20th century. According to the Times-Picayune, roughly 450 alleged victims have come forward and "two dozen or so" have filed lawsuits.

As with other recent archdiocesan bankruptcy filings, the New Orleans case included a stipulation that no further abuse claims could be filed with the courts under that umbrella after the fact. The deadline to file was in March 2021, and a final resolution with claimants is yet to be finalized.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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