Father David Rapson's crimes were covered up by his colleagues and superiors

By a Broken Rites researcher (article updated on 22 August 2015)

While Father David Rapson was committing sexual crimes (including rape) against boys at a prominent Australian Catholic boarding school, his religious order promoted him to be the vice-principal of the school, a Melbourne court has been told. Rapson used computer games, soft drinks, alcohol and cigarettes to lure boys (as young as 12) into his office before he sexually abused them, the court was told. Rapson gave some of his victims a drink of drug-laced chocolate-milk or lemonade to make them sleepy before he sexually abused them, the court was told.

The school was Salesian College "Rupertswood", at Sunbury in Melbourne's outer north-west. Father Rapson was a member of a Catholic religious order, the Salesians of Don Bosco.

On 11 May 2015, the Melbourne County Court sentenced Rapson (aged 61) to a maximum of twelve-and-a-half years jail (with parole possible after nine years and four months) regarding six of his victims at this school.

Too often, Rapson's victims remained silent because there was nobody to tell and a victim might not want to upset his Catholic parents and grandparents. However, if some boys revealed Rapson's abuse, they might merely tell Rapson's colleagues in Rapson's religious order, some of whom might be offenders themselves. And the church does not arrest any priests or Brothers — only the police do this.

It was some of the victims, not the church authorities, who finally reported Rapson to the police, thus bringing Rapson to justice.

These victims were of various ages, from 12 to 17, and they were not all in the same years at school. These were not Rapson's only victims. They are merely the ones who, eventually (as adults), took the opportunity individually of having an interview with detectives from the Sano Taskforce in Victoria's Sexual Crimes Squad, without knowing that other victims were initiating similar police action.

In 2013, police charged Rapson with crimes committed against eight schoolboys between 1973 and 1990 — five counts of rape and eight charges of indecent assault. 

Rapson chose to plead not guilty. Therefore, after preliminary proceedings before a magistrate in 2013, the case went to a higher court, the Victorian County Court, for a trial with a judge and jury. This was the beginning of a long judicial process which continued into 2015.

Evidence in court

The court was told in 2013 that Rapson (who turned 60 in July 2013) was a man in his early 20s when the first incidents first took place, and the eight boys involved were now men ranging in ages from their late 30s to early 50s.

The court was told that one student, who was 15 when he was molested by Rapson, was ordered not to come back to the school after accusing Rapson of assaulting him. That is, the church officials protected the alleged offender, instead of protecting the victims.

The court was told that another priest walked in while Rapson was abusing one victim. Rapson allegedly remarked to the other priest: "You know what we do here. God made us this way and it's his [i.e., God's] fault."  The court was told that Rapson's religious colleagues kept quiet about this incident. That is, the complaints were not forwarded to the police. This enabled Rapson (and others) to target more boys.

Another victim told police that Rapson attacked him in his office in 1988. He said he was boarding at the college when Rapson invited him to his office after "lights out" to play computer games. He said he was given a drink that made him a "little bit dizzy" and later woke up in pain.

"I must have passed out or fallen asleep. When I woke up I was on the floor in the foetal position right next to the computer desk and felt a large amount of pain," he said.

"Father Rapson was on his hands and knees lying over me.

"I tried to move but I couldn't because he was on top of me and he was a big man."

The victim said Rapson raped him before the victim got up and fled the office.

"He yelled at me in a voice like the devil and said, 'Come back'. I was too scared and just ran all the way back to my dormitory," the victim stated.

The 2013 jury returned a unanimous verdict of  "Guilty" on all charges regarding the eight victims. Rapson was remanded in custody to await his sentence.

Pre-sentence submissions in 2013

At a pre-sentence hearing on 9 October 2013, Judge Liz Gaynor heard final submissions before deciding what kind of sentence should be imposed on Rapson.

As usual, victims each had an opportunity to submit an impact statement to the judge, explaining how their lives had been had been affected by Rapson's crimes.

One victim, who said he was raped by Rapson on four separate occasions at a Melbourne Catholic school in 1990, wrote that he has been haunted by the abuse every single day since it happened. As a result, his life has been riddled by drug abuse, mental health issues and family breakdowns.

"It's like I'm always running from him," he said. "My life would have been so, so different if not for the abuse."

In a separate victim impact statement, the man's mother said that her son once fled from this school, jumped a fence and swam across a fast-flowing creek all because Rapson walked into his dormitory. She said her son was missing for eight hours, but the school only let her know after he was found.

The prosecutor told the court that all the victims had been affected through their lives by Rapson's abuse, after he breached their trust. The prosecutor also said: "This is very, very serious offending, particularly in the setting in which it occurred and the power and authority that the accused had, particularly with a view that he thought he was untouchable, he could do what he wanted."

Rapson's lawyer told the court that there was already sexual abuse going on at this school when Rapson arrived to teach there in 1986.  The defence suggested that the prevalence of the abuse had a "disinhibiting effect” on Father Rapson.

Jailed in 2013 but then an appeal in 2014

In late 2013, Judge Liz Gaynor sentenced Rapson to a minimum of 10 years jail for five counts of rape and eight of indecent assault, involving eight students. Rapson immediately was taken to jail but he appealed against the conviction on the ground that the various charges should have been heard in separate trials (instead of in a single trial) because of differences in the alleged offending.

In 2014 the Court of Appeal ordered that Rapson be re-tried, and Rapson was freed from custody (after 11 months in jail) pending the new trials.

New juries, January-March 2015

In early 2015, a series of four trials were held, with separate juries. The court imposed a media-suppression order for the duration of the trials, so that each jury would not know about the other juries and would not be influenced by media reporting.

This time, before the hearings began, one of the victims from the 2013 trial decided to drop out of the case.

During the four trials in 2015, the juries were shown the complainants' evidence that was recorded from the 2013 trial, which spared them giving evidence in court again.

As a result of the 2015 trials, Rapson was found guilty of five charges of rape and six of indecent assault, committed against six boys between the 1970s and 1990s. A jury acquitted Rapson regarding another boy on the ground that there was insufficient evidence regarding this boy.

On 31 March 2015 Judge James Parrish remanded Rapson in custody. The judge lifted the non-publication order, and the convictions were then reported in the media.

Sentenced in 2015

On 11 May 2015, Judge James Parrish spoke at length about Rapson's offences and then announced the sentence.

[The calculating of the prison term is a complicated process. The amount of the total sentence is influenced by the number of victims and the number (and circumstances and seriousness) of the various charged incidents. The judge has to decide (according to law) which of the penalties for each incident are to be regarded as cumulative or concurrent, to reach the total amount of jail time.]

Judge Parrish sentenced Rapson to a maximum of twelve-and-a-half years jail. Rapson will be eligible to apply for parole after he has served nine years and four months in jail.

Detectives from the Sano Taskforce (in the Sexual Crimes Squad of the Victoria Police), who had helped the victims, were present in court at the sentencing.

Some background about Rapson

To see another article from Broken Rites about Father David Edwin Rapson's career as a member of the Catholic Church's Salesian religious order in Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales, click HERE.