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    Check of priests' files finds no misconduct

    By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 15, 2002

    ST. PETERSBURG -- The Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg has nearly finished a review of its 240 active priests without finding any credible claim of sexual misconduct with minors, the church's general counsel said Tuesday.

    The diocese will not issue a report until it reviews several hundred more files pertaining to visiting and retired priests who also serve in the diocese.

    "The diocese is looking through every piece of paper in the files in order to see if there are any sexual complaints with a minor that someone has made against any of these priests," said church counsel Joseph DiVito.

    "So far, it shows that there have been no credible and substantial complaints," he said. "There's no transfers or moving people around because of anything that happened or any kind of complaint that was made."

    However, DiVito acknowledged that the review, which examined the files dating back to the diocese's formation in 1968, raised no red flags regarding two priests who recently resigned while facing allegations of sexual impropriety.

    The priests, the Rev. Richard Allen of St. Matthew in Largo and the Rev. Robert Schaeufele of St. Michael the Archangel in Pasco County, were both accused of sexual misconduct with minors at churches where they had served.

    In the past few days, in addition to Schaeufele's initial accuser, six men have come forward to accuse the priest of sexually assaulting them when they were boys at Sacred Heart parish in Pinellas Park.

    "Father Schaeufele's file contained no complaints of misconduct with a minor," DiVito said.

    At the time of the initial accusation, Schaeufele admitted that he "had made mistakes early in his priesthood and had crossed boundaries concerning sexual misconduct with minors," said DiVito.

    The admission came during an interview with two members of the diocesan response team, a committee established in 1996, in part, to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct by church personnel.

    DiVito, who was not present at Schaeufele's interview, said the priest immediately tendered his resignation.

    "Typically, what happens then is that the members of the response team are sensitive to a whole series of issues and rights that come into play, and he would have been informed that if he said anything further, it could be used against him," DiVito said.

    Schaeufele could not be reached for comment.

    The priest's original accuser, who asked to remain anonymous, is from the Venice area, DiVito said. His six later accusers, four of them former altar boys, are from St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park.

    Pinellas Park police and prosecutors are reviewing the allegations. Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe said Tuesday that his staff soon will conduct interviews with Schaeufele's accusers.

    DiVito said the diocese will cooperate in any investigation.

    "We have not been approached yet by law enforcement," he said.

    This is the first time McCabe's office is investigating allegations of sexual abuse against clergy since the eruption of the nationwide scandal.

    "We've talked to some police agencies who had questions about some reports they have received," McCabe said. "As far as formally getting involved, as far as interviews and so on, this will be the first time."

    Prosecutors will examine statute of limitations issues, he said.

    "That will be one of our first questions we need to answer after we determine what occurred and when it occurred," McCabe said.

    Joseph H. Saunders, attorney for the six Pinellas County men, said he has had a few calls from people volunteering information about Schaeufele's conduct involving boys at Sacred Heart.

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