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Former priest may be first ever to be charged with sex crimes while already in prison

Mar 2, 2016

Credit Oklahoma Dept of Corrections

James Francis Rapp, a former Roman Catholic priest, recently pleaded no contest to charges that he had sexual contact with students while he was a wrestling coach and a teacher at Lumen Christi High School in Jackson.
 

Rapp faces up to 20 years in prison. The trouble is, he’s already in prison.

Rapp, 75,  is currently serving a 40-year sentence for sexually abusing a pair of teenage boys in Oklahoma.

David Clohessy, the director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), joined Stateside to talk about the case and how rare it is for someone who is already in prison to be brought up on charges for a separate incident. 

“It might be the only case that we know of in the country where an already imprisoned predator priest has been charged and convicted of more charges,” said Clohessy.

“Typically, once a child-molesting cleric is behind bars, and very, very few of them ever get there … no matter how many other victims come forward, oftentimes prosecutors are just reluctant to spend the time and resources on filing additional charges.”

It might be the only case that we know of in the country where an already imprisoned predator priest has been charged and convicted of more charges

According to Clohessy, Rapp worked in six different states, and no one knows how many more victims there may be.

Why are prosecutors reluctant to follow up with additional charges? Clohessy speculates that they might run the risk of offending powerful religious leaders, stirring up controversy within their congregations and possibly risking their future political career.

In addition to the crimes themselves, a major concern for Clohessy and the SNAP organization, are the Catholic bishops and other religious leaders who have enabled the behavior to continue by turning a blind eye.

“There has never been … a Catholic bishop on the planet who has been defrocked, demoted, or disciplined for concealing abuse, shuffling predators, stiff-arming police or any kind of misbehavior related to child sex crimes,” said Clohessy. “There have been two bishops … who have been criminally charged and found guilty of enabling child sex crimes by withholding evidence from police.”
 

There has never been ... a Catholic bishop on the planet who has been defrocked, demoted, or disciplined for concealing abuse, shuffling predators, stiff-arming police or any kind of misbehavior related to child sex crimes.

  Clohessy said that if he chose to, Pope Francis could make a major impact on the issue if he was to publicly condemn, not only the priests who committed the crimes, but the ones who have enabled them.  

In terms of criminal cases, Clohessy gives credit to Michigan lawmakers for enabling child sex abuse victims to file charges against their predators. However, where the problem lies is with civil cases where the state ranks among the worst.
 
“Michigan has some of the most restrictive statutes of limitations in the country,” said Clohessy. “The problem with that is that it’s the civil cases that expose both those who commit and those who conceal abuse.”

Listen to the full interview below to hear Clohessy’s suggestions on how Michigan could improve the legal system to assist victims of sexual assault and some simple ways that religious leaders can help the cause.