Priest Sex Abuse Suit Is Tossed; Abuse Suit Dismissed by Judge

By Peg McEntee
Salt Lake Tribune (Utah)
August 23, 2003

A pair of Utah brothers who claimed they were abused by a Roman Catholic priest in the 1970s not only waited far too long to file a lawsuit, but also failed to show there was any compelling legal reason to bring their case to trial, a judge ruled Friday.

Third District Judge Paul G. Maughan dismissed in its entirety the multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed in February by Ralph and Charles Colosimo, saying in a memorandum decision that both were aware of the purported abuse and could have reported it at the time.

The statute of limitations has expired, Maughan wrote, and the Colosimo brothers could not prove that the principal defendants -- including top officials of Utah's Catholic diocese and Judge Memorial Catholic High School -- knew the Rev. James F. Rapp was a pedophile and did nothing to stop him.

"Although it is convenient to say that this information was concealed and would not have been provided had it been asked for, the fact remains that the plaintiffs had a duty to file their action within the limitations period when they knew they had been injured by their teacher and priest, James Rapp," the judge wrote. Rapp now is serving a 40-year prison term for molesting an Oklahoma boy.

Defense attorney Matthew McNulty said Friday that the "diocese abhors in any form or allegation as to child abuse, and stands ready to provide counseling, spiritual or otherwise, to victims of child abuse.

"But [it] is nevertheless gratified that the judge understood that 24 to [28] years of delay in bringing a cause of action like this is simply too long," he said. Typically, the statute of limitations in such abuse cases would expire four years after the alleged victim turned 18.

Larry Keller, the Colosimos' attorney, said the brothers likely would consider an appeal but that a decision had not been made.

"We respect the judge's decision," Keller said, "but are extremely disappointed that [the case] was thrown out on a technicality" -- the statute of limitations. "My clients wanted . . . to put their case before a jury and have their day in court. The judge has decided they won't have their day in court."

In the lawsuit, Ralph Colosimo, 49, claimed Rapp had repeatedly abused him sexually when he was a student at Judge in the early 1970s. Charles Colosimo, who is seven years younger, said Rapp had become a family friend when Charles was a student at St. Ann's Catholic Grade School and abused him from 1972 through 1975.

Ralph Colosimo also claimed that he had repressed the memory of the abuse until his 1998 divorce, when he began to remember and "draw a connection between [it] and the damage it had done to his life." Charles Colosimo, 41, made no claim of repressed memory.

Maughan wrote, however, that it was "compelling that [Ralph Colosimo] does not claim that he repressed all memory of all instances, just all memory of many instances. The plaintiffs' pleadings demonstrate that Ralph was aware of some, if not many, instances of the abuse when they occurred."

In any case, Maughan wrote, Ralph Colosimo was able to function in society, get an education and employment, and marry, although that ended in divorce.

Maughan also rejected Keller's argument that his clients did not realize they had a case until May 2002, when they saw a story in the Washington Post about Rapp's long history of abuse. The Colosimos believed that article bolstered their claim that Catholic officials had covered up Rapp's misdeeds; Maughan wrote that the brothers knew they were being abused and failed to take action at the time.

"The defendants had no duty to disclose due to the plaintiff's failure to inquire," the judge wrote.

On Friday, Keller said Maughan had placed his clients in a "Catch 22" because they could not have known about the alleged cover-up until they saw the Post article.

Maughan also discounted Keller's introduction this week of a 1962 Vatican document, reported as a recent discovery by CBS News on Aug. 6, which purportedly directed church officials to conceal and deny any sexual abuse by clergy. The judge said the document was unauthenticated and hearsay, and so could not be considered.

The suit named as defendants Rapp; the diocese and its bishop; the Archdiocese of San Francisco, of which the Utah diocese is a part; the Ohio-based Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, which trained and ordained Rapp; and three of Rapp's superiors at Judge: then-principal Thomas P. O'Neill, then-vice principal W. Ivan Cendese and then guidance counselor Francis J. Gross.

The imprisoned Rapp did not respond to the suit and a default judgment was entered against him. Maughan dismissed the rest of the case "with prejudice," meaning it cannot be refiled.


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