Court told of ‘sadistic’ abuse by former Catholic school principal

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THE former principal of a Catholic boys school stood and watched as his deputy sexually abused a young student, a court has heard.

The principal, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was one of a circle of alleged Salesian priests in charge of the order’s Sunbury college, Rupertswood.

He later went on to become one of the Salesian’s highest ranked officials. At a pre-sentence hearing for former vice-principal David Edwin Rapson today new details of a shocking culture of pedophilia at the school emerged.

The court heard the disturbing culture helped transform Rapson, 60, from a “low level pedophile” into a “sadistic” abuser.

County Court Judge Liz Gaynor said Rapson, who became vice-principal, inflicted “unbelievably cruel treatment” on his victims.

“He’s risen through the ranks and become a senior member of the school … and whatever circle of abusers was operating (there) at that time,” she said.

Rapson’s crimes were so evil he was kicked out of the church by Pope John Paul II in 2004 after years of lobbying by his Melbourne superiors.

He was found guilty in August of eight counts of indecent assault and five counts of rape over attacks on students in the 1980s.

One victim told police after a priest walked in on Rapson abusing him, Rapson told the priest: “You know what we do here. God made us this way and it’s his fault.”

The victim said the other priest told Rapson he had been “trying to resist it” and urged Rapson to do the same.

The former priest has already served one prison term after being jailed in 1992 for abusing a 15-year-old student at the school, years after victims first complained to college leaders.

Rapson’s lawyer Shaun Ginsbourg today told the court Rapson was physically abused as a child before joining the Salesians as a young homosexual man.

“At a young age, in an isolated setting, he is in a position of having sexual feelings that his church, to which he has pledged his loyalty and chastity, is telling him his feelings are evil and unnatural,” he said.

Mr Ginsbourg said there was already sexual abuse going on at Rupertswood when Rapson arrived to teach there in 1986.

He suggested the abuse was known among the staff because it had had a “disinhibiting effect on Mr Rapson”.

Mr Ginsbourg said his client was transferred out of the college after allegations were levelled against him.

It is believed to be the first time a member of the Salesian order has publicly acknowledged that priests suspected of sexual abuse were moved rather than reported to authorities.

In 2004, the Australian chapter of the Salesians was engulfed in a global scandal after it was alleged local superiors had moved priests accused of sexual assaults across international and state borders to evade authorities.

It is a claim the Salesians have persistently denied.

Earlier this year the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations was told that 49 complaints had been made against 14 priests of the Salesian order.

The order had paid out more than $2.06 million in compensation over 37 of those complaints.

Five Salesian priests have been convicted of criminal offences. Two former priests from Rupertswood currently have matters before the courts.

shannon.deery@news.com.au

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