I-Team: Diocesan youth camp employs former Lewiston priest accused of abuse

Diocese investigating Fr. Joseph Rappl

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) - “I just tried to be, you know, someone who was good and attended Mass and went to confession.”

It was after that confession decades ago that an 11-year-old altar boy in Lewiston says he was abused by a Diocese of Buffalo priest.

“I had asked to have a confession, and after the confession he sexually abused me,” said the man, who was identified Thursday as “John Doe” at a news conference in Buffalo, where he spoke by telephone to reporters.

The church was St. Peter in Lewiston. The priest: Father Joseph Rappl. That 11-year-old altar boy is 48 now. Even decades later, he is too ashamed to give his name.

“It’s very difficult to talk about,” he said. “I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed. I didn’t know how people would respond. You know, it took this long for me to have the courage to come forward and speak about this.”

The man came forward Monday with the help of Dr. Robert Hoatson, a former priest who helped blow the lid off the sexual abuse scandal in February and who vouches for the credibility of the latest victim.

“People don’t make this up,” Hoatson said. 

The man said Father Rappl abused him just once, but it scarred him for life.

“At the time, I didn’t process it very well,” he said. “I didn’t know how to process it. I was 11.” 

The 7 Eyewitness News I-Team called Rappl at his home in North Carolina to respond to the allegations, but he did not respond to a message left for comment. 

After hearing the allegation, the I-Team pored through diocesan church directories and found the timeline on John Doe’s story matched up to Rappl’s assignment history.

St. Peter’s in Lewiston was Rappl’s first assignment after his 1978 ordination.. He stayed there until he was transferred to St. Catherine of Siena in West Seneca in 1983.

After three years, the diocese sent Rappl to the outskirts of the diocese at St. Mary’s Church in the Orleans County village of Holley. He is then listed as a military chaplain in California, New York, Washington, D.C., and North Carolina. He disappears from the directories in 2000.

Diocesan spokesman George Richert promises a full investigation, saying, “It is a very new allegation and it will be given as much seriousness as any case. We take any claim like this very seriously and there is a process that we will take step-by-step.”

One piece of information sticks out in the diocesan records. 

In 1999, one year before he apparently stopped operating as a priest, Rappl’s address is listed as “c/o 795 Main Street” -- the address of diocesan headquarters. Experts say the diocese sometimes used that term as code to hide a troubled priest.

“In many occasions that’s code for some sort of treatment involving pedophilia,” said Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who was portrayed in the movie “Spotlight” and who is representing John Doe.

Rappl now lives in North Carolina and calls himself on his LinkedIn page a “married Roman Catholic priest” who has “left the clerical state” but is part of a group of “married and resigned priests” who perform certain sacraments like weddings and baptisms.

More pressing is that he serves as a counselor at Camp Turner, an overnight camp in the Southern Tier for young boys and girls that is run by the Diocese of Buffalo.

Rappl is seen on Camp Turner’s Facebook page planning events for the summer, but the diocese says his involvement in that camp may change.

Richert, the diocesan spokesman, said a full investigation will be conducted into Rappl’s involvement at the camp. He said the fact Rappl was a camp counselor suggests the diocese may not have been aware of any prior abuse allegations. 

Watch 7 Eyewitness News at 11 p.m. for the full story.

Have a tip? Contact Investigative Reporter Charlie Specht at (716) 840-7870 or by email at Charlie.Specht@wkbw.com. 

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