Clergy Sexual Abuse in African American Communities
Clergy sexual abuse of racially minoritized persons has gone largely unexamined, indeed almost without notice, in discussions of this tragic reality. The authoritative sources often cited, e.g., the John Jay Report and Jason Berry’s monograph, make no mention of racial or ethnic minority survivors. The typical victim, in the US context, is presented as white, and often male. The erasure of racial and ethnic minorities as victim-survivors magnifies the trauma such individuals already endure.
There are several reasons for this silence. First, many dioceses/religious orders do not keep records identifying sexual abuse survivors by their racial or ethnic identities. Second, Catholic theological ethics treats race and sexuality as siloed, stand-alone categories. An intersectional understanding of racialized sexuality is largely missing. This inhibits the ability to be both conscious of and concerned about the unique victimization and trials that result when the perpetrators of clergy sexual abuse (overwhelmingly white) prey upon victims of color. Finally, lacking an intersectional understanding of sexuality creates a blindness to the cultural barriers that may inhibit persons of color, particularly African American men, from reporting sexual abuse inflicted by white men.
This research project attempts to break this silence and erasure. Given that this is a relatively unexplored field, my study has several aims. First, it lifts up the reality of African American survivors of clergy sexual abuse as an ecclesial fact, highlighting the limited data that exists of identifiable survivors. Second, adopting an intersectional understanding of sexuality, it highlights several unique dynamics and vulnerabilities at work in the abuse of Black males by white male religious authority figures. Third, it explores how the institutional relationship of the Catholic Church to its Black Catholic members could be a contributing factor to the vulnerability and precarity of Black male survivors. Fourth, it identifies some of the obstacles that exist in exploring this topic, including a lack of reliable data collection on the part of Catholic institutions and authorities. Finally, it offers suggestions for both better pastoral care of racial and ethnic survivors and areas for further research and study.
Through this research, Church leaders and scholars will gain a better understanding of the unique harms occasioned by racialized sexual abuse, and thus a a more complete understanding of this scope of the tragic phenomenon of clergy sexual abuse in the Church.
Bryan N. Massingale is the James and Nancy Buckman Professor of Theological and Social Ethics, as well as the Senior Ethics Fellow in Fordham’s Center for Ethics Education. Prior to his appointment at Fordham, he was Professor of Theology at Marquette University. Professor Massingale is a past Convener of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium and a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Christian Ethics and serves on the editorial board of Theological Studies, one of the premier Catholic journals of theology. In addition to his academic pursuits, Professor Massingale strives to be a scholar-activist through serving faith-based groups advancing justice in society. He is a noted authority on issues of social and racial justice, having addressed numerous national Catholic conferences and lectured at colleges and universities across the nation. He has served as a consultant to the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, providing theological assistance on issues such as criminal justice, capital punishment, environmental justice, and affirmative action. He has also been a consultant to the National Black Catholic Congress, Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Relief Services, the Leadership Conference of Religious Women, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the National Catholic AIDS Network, and the antiracism teams of Call to Action and Pax Christi USA. He is an active participant in a network of Catholic thought leaders striving for fuller inclusion of LGBT persons in society and the faith community.