Statute of Limitations Being Called Into Play in Alleged Priest Abuse
By Peg McEntee
The Salt Lake Tribune
Expired statutes of limitation may be enough to derail a lawsuit by two Salt Lake County men who claim they were abused by a then-priest in the early 1970s. If not, the "repressed memory" of one of the men is unlikely to withstand legal scrutiny, a lawyer for Utah's Roman Catholic diocese said Tuesday.
Matthew McNulty on Monday asked 3rd District Judge Paul A. Maughn to dismiss a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed Feb. 18 by Ralph and Charles Colosimo, who claimed they were abused by James A. Rapp, a former priest here now serving a 40-year prison term in Oklahoma on sexual abuse convictions.
Ralph Colosimo, now 49, was a student and athlete at Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City when he was abused by Rapp, a teacher at the time, according to the suit. His younger brother, Charles, now 41, claims Rapp became a family friend when he was a student at St. Ann's Catholic Grade School and abused him repeatedly in Rapp's home and other places from 1972 to 1975.
The brothers' suit names as defendants the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, which encompasses all of Utah; Judge High's board of financial trustees; Rapp; and three priests who were Judge administrators at the time. They are claiming assault and battery, negligence, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and false imprisonment.
McNulty, who represents the diocese and the trustees, said in his memorandum that under the statute of limitations, Charles Colosimo's claims expired in 1983 and his brother's "before 1980."
Larry Keller, attorney for the Colosimo brothers, said Tuesday he had anticipated that any motions to dismiss would involve the statute of limitations.
McNulty also wrote that Judge's board of financial trustees did not come into being until 1977, meaning the body "could not have engaged or in any way participated, directly or indirectly, by act or omission, in any of the wrongful conduct" the Colosimos allege.
Moreover, McNulty said, the administrations of the diocese and of Judge High School have changed completely since the time of the alleged abuse. And the Oblates of St. Frances de Sales, which once provided Judge's teachers, no longer does so, he said.
The Oblates and three former Judge administrators who also were named in the February lawsuit also filed motions to dismiss, Keller said. Rapp had not filed any motion, he said.
As for repressed memory, Ralph Colosimo said in the lawsuit that it was not until his 1998 divorce that he began to recall the abuse and "draw a connection between [it] and the damage it had done to his life."
McNulty said the notion of repressed memory was difficult legally because case law tends to be more permissive the younger the plaintiff was at the time of the abuse. That "window" becomes narrower the older the plaintiff, and Ralph Colosimo was 18, an adult, at the time of his alleged abuse, he said.
In his suit, Ralph Colosimo said that he, a brother and a friend armed with a handgun confronted Rapp at his Rose Park home about his alleged abuse of Charles.
"At 18, we've got a victim who goes to a confrontational meeting, with someone with a gun . . . and that elicits no response from Ralph except that he forgets it," McNulty said. "That's a tough window, and frankly we're struggling with that part of the story."
The Colosimos' suit seeks damages of $5 million for each man on each of eight counts and $5 million each in punitive damages.
McNulty said that a verdict granting such damages "could have far-reaching if not probably bankrupting consequences to the diocese," which he said lacks the financial or insurance resources of some larger, wealthier dioceses.
The diocese is not blind to the ramifications of sexual abuse in the church, he said. In June, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference adopted strict new procedures for preventing, reporting and punishing sexual abuse. In response, the Utah diocese convened a board to review every allegation of sexual abuse by priests or staff members, and to analyze its policies regarding protection of minors and its own handling of such cases. In June, Bishop George Niederauer announced that three unidentified priests had been removed from service in the Utah diocese because of sexual misconduct with minors.