Justices Weigh Alleged Priest Abuse Case
Lawsuit Twice Dismissed: Brothers' Lawyer Argues Statute of Limitations Shouldn't Apply
By Jessica Ravitz
The Salt Lake Tribune
February 2, 2006
An attorney told the Utah Supreme Court Wednesday that boys raised to "revere" priests shouldn't be punished for failing to investigate them.
High court justices heard arguments in the case of two Salt Lake City brothers who allege they were sexually abused by a former priest and teacher.
Ralph and Charles Colosimo, now 52 and 44, respectively, sued the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City and Judge Memorial Catholic High School in 2003. They claimed they were molested in the 1970s by Rev. James F. Rapp, then a teacher at the school, and that both institutions - and possibly others, including the Archdiocese of San Francisco - knew of Rapp's abusive behavior but did nothing to stop him. Twice, both in the 3rd District Court and the state Court of Appeals, the Colosimos' $80 million lawsuit was dismissed on the grounds that they had waited too long to pursue legal action. Under Utah law, the brothers had until age 22 - four years after they became adults - to file their case. Their lawyer, however, maintains that "the distinct nature of child sex abuse," as well as information learned in recent years, should excuse the case from the traditional statute of limitations.
Attorney Larry Keller said the Colosimos were "taught to revere and simply obey priests," and that - given their feelings of shame and fear - speaking out against a man who was not just a priest and teacher, but also a family friend, was too much to bear. Ralph was 17 when the alleged abuse began; Charles was 10.
The Colosimos have said they only 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 - among them correspondence from staff at Judge Memorial, dating back to 1969 - that outline Rapp's long history of known sexual problems. The defrocked priest is now serving a 40-year prison term for molesting an Oklahoma boy after he pled no contest to charges in 1999.
At issue Wednesday was whether or not the Colosimos should have investigated what the school and church knew about Rapp when they were within the statute of limitations. Keeler argued that such inquiries "would have been futile" and that the statute of limitations should have begun upon publication of The Washington Post article.
Because the brothers were aware of the abuse - only Ralph claimed to have repressed some of the memories - and because Rapp had reportedly admitted that he was a pedophile, defense attorney Russell Fericks said the Colosimos had an "obligation to start when they [knew] what they [knew]."
No one inside, or outside, the courtroom denied that Rapp had abused the Colosimo brothers. Keller argued that dismissing the case has precluded the Colosimos from finding all the facts and possibly revealing a cover-up.
Fericks said bending the statute of limitations would diminish the law.
The former Judge Memorial principal is now in an Alzheimer's facility. The then-counselor is deceased.
The Colosimo case is believed to be the first child-sex abuse lawsuit filed in Utah after scandals rocked the U.S. Catholic Church in 2002. The opinion issued by the Supreme Court justices, which could come at any time, will influence future litigation.
"This is our last chance," Keller said. "We want jurors to hear this case. . .We want our day in court."
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