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  Vatican Orders Cited in Suit

By Brandon Griggs
The Salt Lake Tribune [Utah]
Downloaded August 20, 2003

A newly discovered Vatican document, detailing churchwide policy on the handling of sexual abuse by priests, has found its way into a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Utah's Roman Catholic diocese by two brothers who claim a priest sexually abused them in the 1970s.

The document, written in 1962 by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, was unearthed by CBS News and featured on its Aug. 6 evening newscast. Five days later, attorneys for Ralph and Charles Colosimo filed a copy of the document in 3rd District Court, arguing that it offers "further evidence" that the Utah diocese covered up the priest's prior pattern of abuse.

The 39-page document, said by CBS to be from the Vatican's archives, details the procedures under which church officials should adjudicate the "unspeakable crime" of sexual abuse by a priest, primarily in the context of hearing confession. It orders that officials treat such cases "in a most secretive way . . . under the penalty of excommunication."

In their lawsuit, filed in February, the Colosimos allege the former Rev. James A. Rapp molested them repeatedly while he taught at Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City. They also allege that Rapp's superiors knew of his pedophilia but did nothing to remove him or protect potential victims. Rapp is serving a 40-year prison term for sexually abusing an Oklahoma boy.

Attorneys on both sides do not dispute that Rapp abused the Colosimo boys. Instead, arguments have focused mostly on whether statutes of limitations -- which defendants say expired at least 20 years ago -- prohibit the Colosimos from bringing a claim against the diocese now.

Judge Paul G. Maughan, who heard oral arguments last month, had been expected to issue a written ruling soon on the defendants' request to dismiss the case. But attorneys believe Maughan's ruling has been delayed because the Colosimos' attorney, Larry R. Keller, filed an Aug. 11 memo arguing that the Vatican document "appears to set forth a church-wide policy of secrecy in the handling of allegations of sex abuse . . . by priests."

To Keller, the document shows that the Utah diocese, by following its rules, "committed fraud by holding out James Rapp as a worthy priest, teacher and community leader when they knew that he was a dangerous pedophile."

Keller also contends that the document waives the statute of limitations because the Utah diocese, "by deliberately keeping secret their knowledge of Rapp's past abuse of students at Judge . . . allowed themselves to appear blameless in [the Colosimos'] eyes." Keller contends his clients could not have realized they had a case until May 2002, when they saw a story in the Washington Post about Rapp's long history of abuse.

But Utah diocese attorney Matthew F. McNulty, in a motion filed Tuesday, responded that Keller has distorted the nature of a document that is not relevant to the Colosimo case.

McNulty argued the Vatican document has no bearing on any abuse by Rapp because the Catholic Church revised its codes in the late 1960s and early 1970s -- before most, if not all, the abuse occurred. The revised codes treat child sexual abuse as criminal behavior, McNulty said.

In addition, McNulty said, the discovery of the Vatican document does not change the fact that the Colosimos knew of the abuse decades ago but did not pursue legal action until 2003.

Ralph Colosimo, now 49, and Charles Colosimo, now 41, seek $5 million each on eight counts and $10 million in punitive damages.

The Colosimos have named as defendants Rapp, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City and the Archdiocese of San Francisco, of which the Utah diocese is a part. Also named is the Ohio-based Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, which trained and ordained Rapp and three of Rapp's superiors at Judge.

 
 

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