Catholic priest sentenced for sexually abusing Michigan boys in 1980s: ‘His crime and position was a murder on my soul’

By Meg Wagner
New York Daily News
April 30, 2016

Former Catholic priest James Rapp was sentenced to up to 40 years in prison Friday.

Victim John C. Wood speaks during the sentencing hearing for James Rapp.

James Rapp stands during his sentencing hearing.

Jackson Circuit Court Judge Susan Beebe delivers the sentence for James Rapp Friday.

A Catholic priest is facing up to 40 years behind bars for sexually abusing Michigan high school boys three decades ago — and six of his victims confronted him in the courtroom before he was hauled off to prison.

James Rapp — a 75-year-old former priest who taught at Jackson Lumen Christi High School in south central Michigan in the 1980s — pleaded no contest to criminal sexual conduct for raping and molesting his students.

"His crime and position was a murder on my soul," victim Andy Russell said in court Friday, according to the Citizen Patriot. "He's a monster and his path of destruction extends far further than it ever should have."

Rapp is already serving a 40-year prison sentence for lewd molestation in Oklahoma, where he worked after he left Michigan.

Rapp was ordained in 1959 and worked in Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Lockport, N.Y., before he was hired by the Michigan high school in 1980. He taught and served as the school’s wrestling coach.

John C. Wood, another victim who was on the school’s wrestling team, said the priest abused him when they had to share a room during a competition trip to Detroit.

"(Rapp) said the Lord's Prayer on his knees, got in bed with me and had his way,” Wood said.

Wood eventually told the school’s principal, Rev. Joseph Coyle, about what happened on the trip — but the school leader refused to investigate the allegations and told Wood to keep his mouth shut.

“’Some sins are so awful, we cannot talk about them,’” Wood recalled Coyle telling him in Latin. “I was told I would go to hell if I ever talked about what I said in confessional.”

He added: "Well, if I'm going to hell for being here today, I'll see Coyle there and we can talk about it some more."

Rapp transferred out of the school days later, Wood said. The church said he had gone onto another parish.

The investigation into Rapp Michigan began in 2013 when victims approached the sheriff's department.

Rapp, whose February plea dismissed 13 charges of sexual misconduct, will be eligible for parole after 20 years. His maximum prison sentence is 40 years.

"I think it's evident that the only way to heal, move forward and to protect others from this same thing is to bring it out into the open," Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaiti said of the victims. "Shed light on it, and expose the truth. And they've done that. They are true heroes in a horrible situation."


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