Full Story: How the Church Harboured Father David Rapson for Two Decades

The Broken Rites
October 16, 2013

This Broken Rites article tells how the Catholic Church harboured Father David Edwin Rapson for two decades, while he endangered children in Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales.

David Edwin Rapson (born 30 July 1953) was recruited in the early 1970s as a trainee Catholic priest in Melbourne in a  Catholic religious order, called the Salesians of Don Bosco. From Day One, he (and certain colleagues of his) put schoolboys at risk.

At various times in the 1970s and 1980s, Rapson worked at Salesian College (then known as "Rupertswood"), a boarding school in Sunbury (north-east of Melbourne), where he had easy access to boarders. During that same time-span, he also had easy access to boys during stints at other Salesian schools, including one school in Tasmania and one in New South Wales.

According to evidence in court in 2013, Father Rapson used his authority over the boys (as young as twelve), enticing them to his office with the invitation to play computer games, drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes before sexally  abusing them.  However, if boys complained about Rapson, they tended to merely tell Rapson's colleagues and friends in the priesthood, some of whom might  be offenders themselves. And the church does not arrest any priests - only the police do this.

As well as offering alcohol to the boys, he gave some of his victims a drink of drug-laced chocolate-milk or lemonade to make them sleepy before he sexually abused them.

It was some of the victims, not the church authorities, who finally brought Rapson to justice:

  • In 1992, one Rapson victim in Victoria did indeed contact the police (regarding indecent assaults committed in 1987 at the "Rupertswood" school), and this resulted in  Rapson receiving a two-year jail sentence in Victoria in 1992.
  • Thirteen years later, in 2013, eight more of Rapson's Victorian victims (with help from detectives in the Victoria Police) succeeded in getting Rapson convicted again for crimes committed against these eight boys between 1973 and 1990. Seven of these boys were from the above mentioned "Rupertswood" school, and one was from St Joseph's College (a school operated by the Salesians at Ferntree Gully, in Melbourne's east). The Ferntree Gully boy was abused by Rapson in the early 1970s while attending a "retreat" at the Salesian Retreat Centre in Lysterfield (south-east of Melbourne). The 2013 jury unanimously found Rapson guilty of all charges - five counts of rape and eight charges of indecent assault.
The victims in these two court cases (1992 and 2013) are of various ages and they were not all in the same years at school. And these were not Rapson's only victims. They are merely the ones who, eventually (as adults), took the opportunity of having an interview with detectives from Victoria's Sexual Crimes Squad, without knowing that other victims were initiating similar police action.

The Salesians: some background

The Salesian religious order, which recruited David Edwin Rapson as a member, was founded by "Saint" John Bosco in 1859 in Italy. Operating world-wide, the Salesians expanded to Australia in 1923. The order began developing several Australian schools for boys -  notably in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. It also developed Boys Town (a home for troubled youths) in Engadine, south of Sydney.

There have been complaints about boys being sexually assaulted by Salesian priests and Brothers at all the Salesians' Australians schools and at Boys Town, Engadine NSW.

In Victoria the Salesians developed a residential training centre for their recruits into the priesthood. This centre (originally known as "Auxilium College") is in a rural setting at Lysterfield (30 kilometres south-east of Melbourne).  As well as studying at Lysterfield, these trainee priests would receive on-the-job training while they visited Salesian schools around Australia. While in training, these recruits were called "Brother". After being ordained as a priest, they became "Father". Thus, Brother Rapson soon became Father Rapson.

Nowadays, with the decline in the number of priests, the Lysterfield property is known as the Salesian Retreat Centre, used for Catholic schools for "spiritual retreats". The centre has overnight accommodation for several dozen visitors. There have been complaints about students being sexually abused while visiting this Lysterfield property.

Rapson offended in Tasmania

Broken Rites research has ascertained that, as well as working and training in various Salesian schools (e.g., in Melbourne), Brother David Rapson  also spent some time (in 1978) working and training at Boys Town, Engadine, NSW. Broken Rites is doing research about Rapson's activities at Engadine.

Broken Rites has ascertained that one of Rapson's schools in the early 1980s was a  Salesian school, St Dominic's College, in Hobart. A Tasmanian victim, who was abused repeatedly by  Rapson at the age of 14 and 15 during 1983 and 1984, was later paid a relatively large amount of compensation by the Salesians to "settle" the matter. This Tasmanian victim says that Rapson would go away with boys from the Hobart school at weekends to a Salesian-owned beach house where he would commit molestations. This victim says the abuse has damaged his later life.

When the Catholic Church pays compensation to a sex-abuse victim, some victims are led to believe (wrongly) that the "settlement" document is a "gag-order". However, it is never too late for a church victim to talk to detectives from a police child-protection unit, as some of Rapson's Victorian victims have demonstrated. So far, police in Tasmania or New South Wales have not laid charges against Rapson for any incidents that allegedly occurred in those two states.

Jailed in Victoria in 1992

About 1986, the Salesians transferred Rapson from Hobart to Melbourne to teach at Salesian College "Rupertswood" in Sunbury, where he eventually became the vice-principal.

Rapson appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 18 November 1992, charged with five incidents of indecently assaulting a 15-year-old boy at the Sunbury school. Rapson pleaded guilty.

The court was told that Father Rapson was "religious instruction" co-ordinator at the time of the offences.

The prosecutor said the offences took place during 1987 while the victim was a boarder in a dormitory that was supervised by Rapson.

The prosecutor said the offences included occasions on which Rapson offered alcohol and cigarettes to the student to get him inside Rapson's room. On each occasion, Rapson touched the boy's genitals. The priest masturbated the boy three times.

The prosecutor said Rapson had seriously breached the trust that had been placed in him. The prosecutor said that the victim had suffered greatly as a result of the sexual assaults and only revealed the abuse during counselling in early 1992. So the victim finally had a chat with detectives from the Victoria Police, whereas many other Salesian victims did not.

The 1992 courtroom was told that, at the time of this court case [i.e., 1992], Rapson was still a member of the Salesian religious order and was living at the Salesian Retreat Centre (Auxilium College) at Lysterfield, although he was  no longer teaching.

Rapson after 1992

After his 1992 conviction, Rapson still remained officially a Catholic priest, although he did not have any posting in a parish or a school. It is believed that he eventually moved to Sydney, where he lived privately.

In the years after the 1992 conviction, the Salesians became liable to be tackled by Rapson's victims, claiming civil compensation for the disruption of their lives. In March 1993, four former students at the Sunbury school commenced civil action against the Salesians, claiming that the Salesians were negligent in continuing to allow Father Rapson to teach after the Salesians were made aware of complaints about his behaviour.

Also, there was a danger that more of Rapson's victims might report his crimes to detectives in the Sexual Crimes Squad, resulting in bad publicity for the Salesians and for the image of their fee-paying schools. From the viewpoint of the Salesians, it was best if they could transform Rapson into a "former" priest. But it took the church another 12 years for the Salesians to remove Rapson's priestly status. The Vatican finally (and reluctantly) removed Father David Rapson from the priesthood in 2004.

It is in the interests of the Salesians not to alienate David Rapson unduly. The various child-abusers in the Salesians knew about each other's child-abuse offences. A former Australian head of the Salesian order, Father Ian Murdoch, has been quoted as saying that, while serving his 1992 jail sentence, Rapson made threats from the prison,  saying that he has information about other Salesians who had committed crimes.

Convicted again in 2013

In the 2013 court case, the charges (including five counts of rape and eight counts of indecent assault) were more serious and more numerous than in the 1992 case. Rapson chose to plead NOT guilty. Therefore, after preliminary proceedings before a magistrate, the case went to a higher court, the Victorian County Court, for a trial with a judge and jury.

Seven of these boys were abused at the above-mentioned "Rupertswood" school, while the eighth boy (from St Joseph's College, Fentree Gully) was abused when he visited the Salesian Retreat Centre at Lysterfield.

For legal reasons, the 2013 jury could not be told about Rapson's 1992 "guilty" plea and conviction. Broken Rites temporarily removed the information about the 1992 court case from this website during the 2013 jury trial.

The 2013 courtroom was told that Rapson (who turned 60 in July 2013)  was a man in his early 20s when the alleged incidents first took place, and that the eight boys involved were now men ranging in ages from their late 30s to early 50s.

One student, who was 15 when he was molested by Rapson, told the 2013 trial that he was ordered not to come back to the school after accusing Rapson of assaulting him. That is, the Salesians protected the offender, instead of protecting the victims.

According to evidence given in court, one victim said that another Salesian priest walked in while this victim was being sexually abused by Rapson. Rapson allegedly remarked to the other priest: "You know what we do here. God made us this way and it's his [i.e., God's] fault."  The court was told that Rapson's colleagues kept quiet about this incident. That is, the Salesians failed to report Rapson's crimes to the police, thus allowing Rapson (and others) to target more boys.

Another victim told police that Rapson attacked him in his office in 1988. He said he was boarding at the college when Rapson invited him to his office after "lights out" to play computer games. He said he was given a drink that made him a "little bit dizzy" and later woke up in pain.

 "I must have passed out or fallen asleep. When I woke up I was on the floor in the foetal position right next to the computer desk and felt a large amount of pain," he said.

"Father Rapson was on his hands and knees lying over me.

"I tried to move but I couldn't because he was on top of me and he was a big man."

The victim said Rapson raped him before the victim got up and fled the office.

"He yelled at me in a voice like the devil and said, 'Come back'. I was too scared and just ran all the way back to my dormitory," the victim stated.

The 2013 jury returned a unanimous verdict of  "Guilty" on all charges. Rapson was remanded in custody, with the sentence hearing scheduled for a  later date.

Pre-sentence submissions

At a pre-sentence hearing on 9 October 2012, the court heard final submissions before deciding what kind of sentence should be imposed on Rapson.

As usual, victims each had an opportunity to submit an impact statement to the judge, explaining how their lives had been had been affected by Rapson's crimes.

One victim, who was raped by Rapson on four separate occasions at Rupertswood in 1990, wrote that he has been haunted by the abuse every single day since it happened. As a result, his life has been riddled by drug abuse, mental health issues and family breakdowns.

"It's like I'm always running from him," he said. "My life would have been so, so different if not for the abuse."

In a separate victim impact statement, the man's mother said that her son once fled Rupertswood, jumped a fence and swam across a fast-flowing creek all because Rapson walked into his dormitory. She said her son was missing for eight hours, but the school only let her know after he was found.

The prosecutor told the court that all the victims had been affected through their lives by Rapson's abuse, after he breached their trust. The prosecutor also said: "This is very, very serious offending, particularly in the setting in which it occurred and the power and authority that the accused had, particularly with a view that he thought he was untouchable, he could do what he wanted."

Rapson's lawyer  told the court that there was already sexual abuse going on at Rupertswood when Rapson arrived to teach there in 1986.  The defence suggested that the prevalence of the abuse had a "disinhibiting effect on Mr Rapson".


As a result of the 2013 trial, David Edwin Rapson is now serving a 13-year prison sentence, with the right to apply for parole after serving ten years. Rapson will be 70-years-old before he is eligible for parole.

The investigation for the 2013 trial was conducted by detectives from the  Sano Taskforce (in the Sexual Crimes Squad of the Victoria Police, located in Flinders Street, Melbourne). The Sano Taskforce can also tell any victims from New  South Wales or Tasmania how to contact the relevant detectives in those states.


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