New allegations surface about former Utah priest abusing 8-year-old boy

(Tribune file photo) James F. Rapp.

A former Roman Catholic priest, currently in prison for sexually abusing students in Oklahoma and Michigan, faces new allegations of molesting a child while he was overseeing a Utah parish and adjoining school here in the 1970s.

In a lawsuit filed late Wednesday, a now 60-year-old man said he was repeatedly abused and threatened by church leader James Rapp while he was attending second grade at St. Ann Catholic School in Kearns. And, he said, the church knew about and “intentionally concealed” the assaults at the time.

“There was a cover-up," said Eric Olson, the man’s attorney, “and that’s a big problem.”

Rapp has previously been sued for similar allegations at Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City. And he appeared on a list released by the diocese here in 2018 of priests “credibly accused” of sexual misconduct with minors. Despite that, formal charges have never been brought against him in Utah, and the earlier lawsuit was dismissed without a trial after a judge determined too much time had passed since the alleged abuse.

The new lawsuit asserts, though, that while Rapp can no longer be criminally charged here, the church can and still should be held liable for the assaults. And for that, a statute of limitations does not apply, Olson said.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City declined to comment.

Guy Platt, a Salt Lake City resident, filed the suit this week after, he said, he had tried to forget about the alleged attacks for the past 40 years. The Salt Lake Tribune typically does not identify victims of sexual assault, but Platt agreed to the use of his name through his attorney.

Platt recounts being enrolled at St. Ann School in 1968, when he was 8 years old. He had previously gone to a public school for kindergarten and first grade but was expelled because of behavioral issues.

His foster parents, he said, hoped the Catholic school would be able to better attend to his special needs. Platt said he developed deficits after being physically and sexually assaulted in previous foster placements. Because of that, too, he believes the priest at St. Ann saw him as vulnerable and targeted him for abuse.

One day when he was in second grade, Platt recalled in the lawsuit, he was walking around the school alone. He bumped into a man near the front doors whom Platt said he previously had seen dropping students off. Platt assumed he was the father of one of his classmates.

The man introduced himself as Jim and asked Platt if he was cold; it was snowing outside. Platt said, “Yes.” The man then knelt down and wrapped Platt inside his coat in a hug. There, Platt said, the man touched him inappropriately for the first time.

There was additional abuse after that, Platt said in the lawsuit. And each time, he noted, Rapp told him not to tell anyone. At one point, the priest allegedly pulled out a knife. On another occasion, he allegedly slammed Platt against a wall until his face bled.

“Jim became angry and physically threatening to Guy,” the court documents claim.

Cover-up alleged

During one of the assaults, Platt said, he was in Rapp’s office and a nun at the church walked in while the priest was molesting the boy. The sister, the lawsuit said, did not report the abuse. Instead, Platt said, she threatened to remove him from the care of his foster parents, who were adopting him, if he spoke about it.

Olson, Platt’s attorney, points to that as a major lapse by church officials. He said that shows that at least one other authority figure at the school knew about the assaults and did nothing to stop them.

“She knew and took an affirmative step to cover up,” Olson said. “That’s just as bad.”

The sister never told Platt’s parents what happened, the suit said.

Platt said he encountered Rapp twice outside of school, too. One of those times was at Sugar House Park, where he said the priest beat him so badly that he broke Platt’s jaw and the boy ended up in the hospital. On the second, Rapp allegedly picked him up, locked him in his car and assaulted him in City Creek Canyon.

The lawsuit said: “Guy did not report what happened out of fear of Jim and his threats." After that, Platt said, he didn’t see Rapp again.

Church records show that the priest was transferred to other states, where he later attacked more young boys. Some of those cases were criminally prosecuted.

Platt notes in the lawsuit that he had tried to “suppress memories of Jim because he felt that this was the best way to deal with what happened,” and he never attempted to find out more about the priest. By accident, though, he did in 2019.

An earlier Utah case

While searching for an old friend of his online, Platt found that two boys he knew had filed a lawsuit against Rapp.

Ralph and Charles Colosimo said they were also abused by the priest in the 1970s, according to the documents they submitted to the court in 2003 — shortly after the national sexual abuse scandal engulfed the U.S. Catholic Church a year earlier. Their case is believed to be the first filed in Utah.

Ralph Colosimo alleged Rapp had repeatedly abused him sexually when he was a student at Judge Memorial High School in the early 1970s; he said that he, too, had suppressed the assaults. Charles Colosimo, who is seven years younger, said Rapp had become a family friend when he was a student at St. Ann and abused him from 1972 through 1975, starting when he was 10 years old.

Their case was later tossed by a federal judge, though, who said too much time had passed since the assaults; that decision was upheld, as well, by the the state’s Supreme Court. And the priest never faced further questioning in Utah.

His name was publicized for the first time by the Salt Lake City Diocese, which oversees all Catholics in the state, in 2018 on a list of 19 members of the clergy who the church said likely abused children during their leadership. The diocese said it had accounts from at least four minors who said they had been sexually abused by Rapp between 1969 and 1975 (which wouldn’t have included Platt). But law enforcement didn’t find out, the church said, until 2002 and 2003, so no charges were filed here.

Rapp was defrocked in the early 2000s after he was found guilty of molesting a young boy in Oklahoma and sentenced to 40 years in prison. In 2016, Rapp was given another 20 years for similar assaults in the 1980s at a Michigan high school.

Olson, Platt’s attorney, believes that shows a pattern of abuse in the places where Rapp served in the faith’s leadership. And, he argues, the Catholic Church knew about it and moved the priest around when he began abusing boys in a parish.

“Justice was never done here in Utah to all of the things that Rapp did,” Olson added. “He’s in prison and paying for it. But what about the church? They had a part in this.”

Olson is now helping Platt sue for negligent employment. And they are asking for damages associated with the abuse — including lifelong depression and some alcoholism — to be determined at trial.

Olson said: “These are horrific stories, but they happened and people need to be ready to blow the whistle.”