Catholic priest, accuser agree to drop dueling lawsuits involving New Orleans church

NEW ORLEANS (LA) [New Orleans, LA]

December 17, 2022

By Stephanie Riegel

They walk away from the litigation as FBI reviews spending at St. Peter Claver Church

A man who had said he was raped as a 10-year-old boy on an overnight trip by a Roman Catholic priest from New Orleans has reached an agreement to drop his lawsuit, court documents show. The Rev. John Asare-Dankwah, former pastor of St. Peter Claver Church in Treme, has, in turn, agreed to drop a countersuit against the accuser, who is now in his 20s and is identified in court documents only as A.A. Doe.

In a conference Thursday with U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, attorneys for both sides said they will file a joint motion by Dec. 22 to dismiss the allegations against each other, according to court records. That doesn’t mean the two sides reached a monetary settlement, only that they decided to walk away from the high-profile suits.

The Asare-Dankwah case is significant among the dozens of clergy abuse lawsuits filed against the Archdiocese of New Orleans in recent years because it involves the FBI. Federal agents are investigating information uncovered in an audit alleging Asare-Dankwah misappropriated almost $400,000 while pastor of St. Peter Claver.

The archdiocese confirmed last month that it turned information from the audit over to the FBI in September 2021, and is continuing to cooperate with the investigation. The FBI won’t comment.

A dismissal of the dueling lawsuits means additional details about Asare-Dankwah’s financial dealings at St. Peter Claver could remain under wraps. The attorneys for his accuser had been seeking to make public investigative material used to produce the audit, court documents show.

Attorneys for the archdiocese and for Asare-Dankwah, who is no longer affiliated with the New Orleans archdiocese, opposed releasing that information, arguing that it lacked relevance and that the only reason the accuser was seeking the information was to “harass and embarrass Fr. Asare and the archdiocese.”

The church bankruptcy

The Asare-Dankwah case is separate but related to the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case that the archdiocese filed in 2020, amid mounting clergy sex abuse allegations and declining church attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2021 lawsuit alleged that Asare-Dankwah raped the boy in 2008 on an overnight retreat, when the priest was stationed at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in Broadmoor. The suit said the priest beat the boy the next morning while condemning homosexuality as a sin.

The priest was removed from his post at St. Peter Claver shortly after the suit was filed. He countersued, not only arguing that the rape allegation was false but asserting that the accuser should pay him damages for unjustly harming his reputation, invading his privacy and intentionally causing him emotional distress.

St. Peter Claver audit

Not long after Asare-Dankwah’s removal, allegations of financial impropriety at the church surfaced, prompting the archdiocese to order a forensic audit. The Carr, Riggs and Ingram accounting firm conducted the audit, which found that during his years as pastor, Asare-Dankwah made questionable payments totaling at least $368,682 to himself, associates and personal credit card accounts.

Attorneys for Asare-Dankwah and the archdiocese asked the court earlier this year to keep the findings of the audit confidential. Morgan denied that request, saying the “embarrassing” information does not outweigh the “public’s interest in an open and honest judicial process.”

Since then, the accuser’s attorneys have asked the court to unseal the source material used to produce the audit, including the transcript of recorded statements that Asare-Dankwah made to auditors. According to court documents that cite the audit, those statements include, “The archdiocese let me do it,” “The finance council approved what I was doing,” and “my mentor told me to do it this way.”

The archdiocese and Asare-Dankwah’s attorney argued the source material should remain under wraps, calling the plaintiff’s request for information a “fishing expedition” that is “beyond the scope of discovery, lacks any relevance to the purported sexual assault and is wholly inadmissible.”

Under wraps

With the dismissal of the dueling suits, the information remains under wraps.

Asare-Dankwah’s accuser is one of some 450 people who have brought forward allegations of clergy abuse against the Archdiocese of New Orleans, although one of just two dozen or so who have filed lawsuits. 

The archdiocese bankruptcy case is slowly making its way through court with the eventual goal of creating a reorganization plan that will pay off the claimants.

Attorneys in the case have said recently that a settlement is still months or more away.