Priest Abuse Alleged; Ex-Judge Teacher, Diocese Are Sued, Two Utahns Sue Ex-Judge Teacher; Abuse Suit Names Clergy at Judge H.S.
By Peg McEntee
Salt Lake Tribune [Utah]
February 19, 2003
Two Salt Lake County brothers on Tuesday filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit claiming a former Roman Catholic priest, now serving a prison term for sexual abuse in Oklahoma, abused them in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Ralph Louis Colosimo claims the Rev. James Rapp repeatedly abused him sexually when he was a student at Salt Lake City's Judge Memorial Catholic High School in the early 1970s. His brother, Charles Matthew Colosimo, claims Rapp became a family friend when Charles was a student at St. Ann's Catholic Grade School and abused him repeatedly from 1972 through 1975.
The suit is believed to be the first in Utah since the national sexual abuse scandal engulfed the U.S. Catholic Church in 2002. In June, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference adopted strict new procedures for preventing, reporting and punishing sexual abuse. In response, the Utah diocese convened a board to review every allegation of sexual abuse by priests or staff members, and to analyze its policies regarding protection of minors and its own handling of such cases.
Last June, Bishop George Niederauer announced that three unidentified priests had been removed from service in the Utah diocese because of sexual misconduct with minors, and that Rapp — who taught at Judge from 1969 to 1974 — was serving a lengthy sentence in Oklahoma on sexual abuse convictions.
Tuesday's suit, filed in 3rd District Court, names as defendants the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, which encompasses the state. Also named are the Archdiocese of San Francisco, of which the Utah diocese is a part, the Toledo, Ohio-based Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, Rapp, Thomas P. O'Neill, W. Ivan Cendese and Francis J. Gross.
In the suit, the Colosimo brothers said the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, which trains and ordains priests for Catholic schools and parishes, was told by an outside psychological evaluator that Rapp "was subject to very strong sexually deviate urges ... accompanied by feelings of anxiety, hostility and violence."
The Oblates "also became aware that Rapp had a schizoid personality," and the evaluation recommended that Rapp be removed from the training if he exhibited "any form of violent reaction."
Despite these warnings, the suit said, Rapp was ordained and in 1968 was hired to teach at Judge. The following year, Rapp's superiors "received multiple complaints from students that Rapp had approached them in private and in the classroom for sexual favors and touched them inappropriately."
Those superiors included then-principal O'Neill, then-vice principal Cendese and then-guidance counselor Gross, all Oblates, the suit said. In late summer 1969, Gross discussed the complaints with O'Neill and Cendese, who left Gross to deal with Rapp. Rapp "denied nothing," and Gross wrote in a letter to Oblate provincial William J. Ward that Rapp failed to "see the seriousness of the situation nor the ramifications in the life of students[s]," the suit said.
According to the Colosimos, Cendese wrote at the time that he worried that if Rapp's activities became publicly known, there would be consequences as a result of the small size of the school and the "narrowmindedness of the Mormon community."
In effect, the suit said, the administrators were more worried about themselves, the Oblates and Rapp than the students at Judge.
Cendese said late Tuesday that he had just received the lawsuit but had not had time to study it thoroughly. However, he said, "I am terribly devastated by the complaint. If I had known, I would have done something."
He said religious education has been "my whole life" and that despite the allegations, he did not know about the abuse when it was occurring. He later left the Catholic Church and became an Episcopal priest. He is now retired.
Ralph Colosimo contends the abuse occurred in his junior and senior years, when he and other students were invited to the Oblate House, which had a fully stocked bar and a swimming pool. On one occasion, Rapp tried to rape Colosimo, but he had been drinking and Colosimo fought him off, the suit said.
Ralph Colosimo says he repressed his memories of the abuse until, in "recent meetings" with a psychologist after a 1998 divorce, he began to recall the abuse and "draw a connection between the abuse and the damage it had done to his life," the suit said.
Rapp targeted 10-year-old Charles Colosimo in 1971, the suit said, when he gained the trust of the boy's parents, spending a good amount of time in their home and taking the boy to the movies. Those outings were where Rapp would abuse the child over the next four years, the suit said.
The abuse escalated when Rapp moved into a home in Rose Park and used a roommate's gun during sex acts, the suit said. After several months, one of the Colosimos' brothers, Danny, Ralph and a friend armed with a handgun confronted Rapp. According to the suit, Rapp "frankly admitted the abuse and said, 'It's called pedophilia. ... What do you want me to do? Go live in a cave?' " The suit seeks a jury trial and damages for each plaintiff of $ 5 million for each of eight counts and $ 10 million on a ninth count.
In an unsigned statement issued Tuesday, the diocese said it learned in November 2000 that "a young man had possibly been abused" by Rapp and that officials had contacted the man to offer pastoral care. Two years later, the diocese said, it learned through an attorney that a second family member also had claimed abuse by Rapp.
"As is consistent with diocesan policy, both incidents were reported to Utah's Division of Child Protective Services," the statement said.
Given the lawsuit, the diocese said it is "examining its records to determine whether, prior to November of 2000, it had any evidence as to, or notice of, allegations concerning James Rapp and these young men."
"We are informed that James Rapp is currently serving a 40-year sentence in an Oklahoma prison for lewd molestation of minors," the statement said. "The current allegations are consistent with and similar to allegations reported in the national media concerning James Rapp's conduct in Oklahoma."
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