Justices Uphold Dismissal of Brothers' Sex Abuse Suit against Church
By Pamela Manson
Salt Lake Tribune
March 13, 2007
The Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit by two brothers who allege they were sexually abused by a priest, ruling they had waited too long to investigate whether Catholic Church leaders had prior knowledge that their abuser was a pedophile.
Ralph and Charles Colosimo claim that officials with the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City and Judge Memorial Catholic High School knew of Rev. James F. Rapp's sexual problems but failed to properly supervise him or stop him from molesting them.
In the unanimous decision, the high court justices said they recognized the "troubling nature of child sexual abuse," but precedent and policy considerations stopped them from extending the time to file suit for plaintiffs who fail to investigate potential claims arising from the molestation.
Larry Keller, the lawyer for the Colosimos, said the ruling is allowing the church and school defendants, who do not deny the brothers were injured, to hide behind a technicality on the statute of limitations. He said the high court's decision ends the case. The brothers do not regret bringing the suit, Keller added. "They wanted to come forward and bring this all out," he said. "They feel good about the fact that they did the right thing. They're willing to take the positive aspects of what happened and go forward with their lives."
The Colosimos, who filed their suit in 2003, say they were molested in the 1970s by Rapp, then a teacher at Judge Memorial Catholic High School. Their suit was believed to be the first in Utah since the national sexual abuse scandal engulfed the U.S. Catholic Church in 2002.
Rapp, now defrocked, pleaded no contest in 1999 to charges in the sexual abuse of an Oklahoma boy and is now serving a 40-year prison term.
The diocese said Tuesday in a written statement that it has "strictly observed" the mandatory reporting of sex abuse allegations and noted that it has implemented a Safe Environment Program to protect children from any kind of abuse.
"The abuse of children is a terrible occurrence," the statement says. "The pastoral care for victims of abuse is important for their healing. The Catholic Diocese has offered such care for both Charles and Ralph Colosimo. They and their families have been and continue to be in our prayers."
The Colosimos' suit was thrown out twice, by the 3rd District Court and the Utah Court of Appeals, on the grounds that the brothers had waited too long to pursue legal action. Under Utah law, they had until age 22, four years after they became adults, to file the suit. Ralph is now 53 and Charles is 45.
Keller had argued that the nature of child sex abuse and newly discovered information should exempt the case from the statute of limitations.
The brothers have said they first became aware of Rapp's history of molestation after seeing a May 2002 article about him in The Washington Post. The story included information about documents dating back to 1969, including correspondence from staff members at Judge Memorial, that outline Rapp's long history of known sexual problems.
In arguments before the Supreme Court last year, attorney Russell Fericks said the Colosimos should have investigated what the church and school knew about Rapp before the time to file suit ran out. Keller responded that inquiries would have been futile and that dismissing the lawsuit prevented the brothers from finding all the facts.
The lawsuit sought millions of dollars in damages. Named as defendants were the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, which encompasses all of Utah; Judge Memorial's board of financial trustees; Rapp; three priests who were administrators at the high school at the time; and the Ohio-based Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, which trained and ordained Rapp.
The brothers claimed assault and battery, negligence, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and false imprisonment.
Ralph Colosimo alleged Rapp molested him when he was a student at Judge Memorial in the early 1970s, while Charles Colosimo said the then-priest became a family friend when he was attending St. Ann's Catholic Grad School and sexually abused him from 1972 through 1975.
The older brother also alleged he had repressed the memory of many instances of abuse until his 1998 divorce. Charles Colosimo made no claim of repressed memory.
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