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Priest now charged with abuse in Pasco

Robert Schaeufele has been accused of molesting a boy over a four-year period while he served at St. Rita's Catholic Church.

By CHASE SQUIRES, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 23, 2002


Robert Schaeufele has been accused of molesting a boy over a four-year period while he served at St. Rita's Catholic Church.

DADE CITY -- A Catholic priest facing four counts of sexually abusing children in Pinellas County has been charged with his first case of sexual abuse in Pasco County, dating back to his service at St. Rita's Catholic Church in Dade City in the 1980s.

According to court documents, Dade City police obtained a warrant Aug. 22 while priest Robert Schaeufele, 54, was in a Pinellas County jail. The warrant was served Thursday, charging Schaeufele with capital sexual battery, which carries a sentence of up to life in prison if he's convicted.

Schaeufele was first arrested May 31 in Michigan and has been in a Pinellas jail in lieu of $500,000 bail since he was extradited to Pinellas in June. He was transferred to the Pasco County jail in Land O'Lakes on Thursday where the Dade City charge carries an additional $100,000 bail.

Schaeufele appeared briefly at a videoconference hearing Friday in which Circuit Judge Joseph G. Donahey Jr. found probable cause to detain him. Schaeufele said he had about $5,000, and the judge declined to provide a public defender. Schaeufele said he has a Pinellas attorney.

Schaeufele is scheduled to appear in a Dade City courtroom Monday morning where he will have an opportunity to plead guilty or innocent.

The affidavit spelling out the latest charge accuses Schaeufele of molesting a boy in his parish over a four year period.

According to the affidavit prepared by former Dade City detective Robin Penix-Johnson, the boy, now 25, contacted authorities Aug. 5 as Pinellas investigators reviewed the case.

"(The man) stated that he developed an extremely close relationship with Robert Schaeufele who acted like a father to him," Penix-Johnson wrote. "Robert Schaeufele provided an allowance, clothing, vehicles, trips and counseling."

The man, whose name has been withheld by the St. Petersburg Times because of the sexual nature of the allegations, told police Schaeufele took him into a bathroom at the church rectory several times -- at least twice before he was 12 -- and injected water into his rectum through an enema tube.

After he was ordained in 1975, Schaeufele (pronounced SHOY-flee) served in nine churches in Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Sarasota counties. Among those churches was St. Rita's, police reported.

The man who filed charges against him in Dade City reported the abuse took place between Feb. 14, 1985 and July 25, 1989. Police reported Schaeufele was serving at St. Rita's during that time.

Schaeufele already faced four charges of capital sexual battery from allegations he abused three boys, ages 9 to 11, during the 1980s while he was at Sacred Heart Church in Pinellas Park from 1983 to 1985.

Assistant State Attorney Tim Hessinger said Friday a trial date of March 25 has been set for Schaeufele in Pinellas County. He said he was not aware of any continuing investigation or additional charges that might be filed there.

St. Petersburg attorney Joseph Saunders is representing 13 men accusing Schaeufele of molesting them, although not all the allegations have led to criminal charges. He said Friday he has not talked with the man who came forward in the Dade City case, but he said the alleged method of abuse is similar to claims some others are making.

"I don't know if I've seen anything as evil as somebody using their priestly powers to exploit these children," Saunders said. "I'm glad that somebody else came forward. It kind of gives some healing to these other men: It was not just them."

Schaeufele's Pinellas attorney, Debora Moss, did not return a call for comment Friday.

Dade City Police Capt. Linda Fox said Penix-Johnson was contacted by Pinellas County investigators and invited to take part in the inquest, which led to the Pasco County charge.

Fox said the investigation led to a second man who was close to the priest and might have been a victim, but he denied he had been abused. As of Friday, Dade City police were not considering additional charges or investigating any additional allegations, Fox said.

Schaeufele resigned in April from his position as pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Hudson after church officials questioned him about abuse allegations.

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