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Survivor Narratives

James F. Rapp

After leaving the Diocese of Joliet, Father James Rapp, a member of the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales religious order, was convicted of sexually abusing children in Michigan and Oklahoma. But his publicly available criminal records were not enough for the diocese to add him to its list of credibly accused priests. When the Attorney General’s investigators reminded the diocese of Rapp’s convictions—the evidence of which was located in the diocese’s own files—it balked at the request to disclose him. Diocesan officials explained they needed to “confirm” Rapp’s convictions.

When the Attorney General’s investigators reminded the diocese of Rapp’s convictions—the evidence of which was located in the diocese’s own files—it balked at the request to disclose him. Diocesan officials explained they needed to “confirm” Rapp’s convictions.

As it turned out, Rapp’s criminal records were not the only evidence of child sex abuse in the diocese’s files. The Oblates’ provincial was refreshingly candid in his May 1987 letter introducing Rapp to Bishop Joseph Imesch:

I am writing this letter to you on behalf of one of our priests who is currently investigating ministry possibilities for the immediate future.

This man is currently at the Montara House of Affirmation Center and completing a six month growth experience. . . . His counsellors have written the following to me: . . . “Father should not return to school work or any ministry which would bring him in contact with minors, but could function well in a parish situation.”


Father went to this therapeutic center for help in regard to ephebophilia, a sexual attractions to adolescent boys. When we received information from a parent in one of our high schools that Father had been involved in sexual behavior with their son, we confronted him with this information. There was no denial.

With that damning information in hand, Bishop Imesch welcomed Rapp to minister in the diocese for three years. Then, when news of Rapp’s criminal convictions surfaced in 2002, the diocese issued a statement attempting to justify its earlier decision:

Prior to conditionally granting Father Rapp faculties to function as a priest in the Diocese of Joliet, Bishop Joseph Imesch was made aware by the Provincial of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales that there previously had been a substantiated allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor made against Father Rapp.


Prior to Father Rapp’s assignment to St. Raphael parish, the Diocese of Joliet informed the pastor of St. Raphael of the prior allegations and of the conditions of Father Rapp’s acceptance for ministry. During the period in which Father Rapp served at St. Raphael, the conditions of his ministry were met.

Yet the diocese never revealed the nature of these “conditions” of ministry—and there is nothing in Rapp’s file explaining what they were or evidencing what steps, if any, were taken to ensure they were satisfied. To the contrary, an internal diocesan email from 2005 suggests uncertainty about its handling of Rapp:

I believe this story concerns the notorious bad boy who served for three years at St. Raphael. As far as we’ve heard, no one has come forward to report abuse from him while in our parish. It seems strange that he has cases against before and after being here. How can that be?

Strange indeed—how can that be?

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Terms are defined as provided in the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops Glossary of Catholic Terms, unless denoted with *.

Altar server
Individuals, usually children, who assist clerics during liturgical functions such as mass. Prior to 1994, only men and boys were permitted to be altar servers.*
The title given automatically to bishops who govern archdioceses. It is also given to certain other high-ranking church officials.
The chief diocese of an ecclesiastical province. It is governed by an archbishop.
Auxiliary Bishop
A bishop assigned to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese to assist its residential bishop.
The highest order of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church. The chief priests in their respective dioceses. Bishops are responsible for the pastoral care of their dioceses. All bishops have a responsibility to act in council with other bishops to guide the church.
A man who has taken vows in a religious order but is not ordained or studying for the priesthood. Sometimes he is called a lay brother to distinguish him from ordained members of religious orders.
Canon Law

A code of ecclesiastical laws governing the Catholic Church.

Highest-ranking Catholic clergy below the pope. Cardinals are regarded as the pope's closest advisors. Most cardinals are archbishops.
The chief archivist of a diocese's official records. Also a notary and secretary of the diocese’s central administration.
Clergy is a collective term referring to all those ordained—bishops, priests, and deacons—who administer the rites of the church. A cleric is an individual member of the clergy. Only men are permitted to join the clergy.
Confession or Reconciliation
The Catholic sacrament in which one makes a voluntary self-accusation of sins to a qualified priest in private in order to obtain absolution. The priest provides the confessor, also known as the penitent, with a penance to atone for sins committed. A priest who hears confession is forbidden from disclosing the contents of a confession to others under what is called the seal of confession.*
The personnel and offices through which (1) the pope administers the affairs of the universal church (the Roman Curia), or (2) a bishop administers the affairs of a diocese (the diocesan curia). The principal officials of a diocesan curia are the vicar general, the chancellor, officials of the diocesan tribunal or court, examiners, consultors, auditors, and notaries.
Dallas Charter
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People sets forth policies for each United States archdiocese and diocese to adopt as part of an effort to address allegations of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy. The Charter was formulated at the 2002 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, Texas. The Charter was revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018.
One of three groups that comprise the clergy, meaning those ordained for ministry. Only men are permitted to become deacons. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional deacons. Those not planning to be ordained priests are called permanent deacons. Married men may be ordained permanent deacons, but only unmarried men committed to lifelong celibacy can be ordained deacons if they are planning to become priests.
Diocesan Priest
Priests under the direction of their local bishop. Most serve in the parishes of the diocese, but they may also be assigned to other diocesan ministries or released for service outside the diocese.
A territorial division of the Church headed by a bishop.
Extern Priest
A priest with faculties to minister in a diocese or archdiocese who was not ordained in that diocese or archdiocese. For example, a diocesan priest from the Diocese of Springfield who has been granted faculties to minister by the Archdiocese of Chicago is an extern priest.*
Church authorization, given by the law itself or by a Church superior, to perform certain official acts.
Members of the Catholic Church. Derived from Catholic teachings that clergy are like shepherds guiding a flock.*
Laicize or Defrock
The process by which a priest is returned to the lay state. It is sometimes used as a penalty for a serious crime, but also can come at the request of the priest. A laicized priest is barred from all priestly ministry with one exception: He may give absolution to someone in immediate danger of death. The pope must approve all requests for laicization. When a priest is laicized without his consent for a crime, such as committing child sexual abuse, it is sometimes called defrocking.
Any activity conducive to the salvation of souls. It can include ordained ministry such as liturgical leadership and administration of the sacraments, or lay ministry such as instructing children in the faith, serving the poor, visiting the sick, or being an altar server, reader, or music leader at mass.
An honorary ecclesiastical title granted by the pope to some diocesan priests.
A member of a religious order of women who has taken solemn or simple vows.
Ordination is the sacramental ceremony in which a man becomes a deacon, priest, or bishop. A cleric who has undergone ordination is known as ordained.*
A specific community within a diocese with its own church building and under the authority of a pastor who is responsible for providing ministerial service. Most parishes are formed on a geographic basis, but they may be formed along national or ethnic lines.
A priest in charge of a Catholic parish or congregation.
Acts performed to atone for committed sins, as directed by a priest in the Catholic sacrament of reconcilliation.*
Residential housing for clergy provided by the Church. A rectory can also contain administrative offices for a parish.*
Religious Cleric
Professed member of a religious order or institute. Religious clergy live according to the rule of their respective orders.
Religious Order or Order
An institution of men or women, at least some of whose members take solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and whose male members are sometimes ordained.*
An educational institution for men preparing for the priesthood.
A cleric who acts in the name of another cleric.*
Vicar general
A priest, auxiliary bishop, or coadjutor bishop who assists the diocesan bishop in the governance of the diocese.
Victims Assistance Coordinator

A diocesan employee who has been designated to coordinate assistance to survivors of sex abuse by clerics.*