By STEPHEN NOHLGREN, Times Staff Writer
Older parishioners adored him. They say he was direct and kind, you could talk to him.
Young men of the church describe a different Father Bob, whose video games and outings exacted a terrible price. Lost innocence still evokes shame and anger.
Allegations span two decades, at six churches, in three counties. Boys in the rectory. Boys staying overnight. Chance after chance for somebody, anybody, to blow the whistle.
Finally, it came down to a decades-old birthday spanking. In April, a mother and father reported that Father Bob had taken their son behind closed doors and paddled his bare bottom.
Such incidents raised nary an eyebrow back then. But by last year, Catholics all over the country were challenging their church.
The era of trust was over. It was time to bring Father Bob in for a chat.
Robert Schaeufele goes on trial Tuesday, accused of capital sexual battery of a minor. Thousands of Catholic priests have worked in the Tampa Bay area and none ever faced a jury on such charges, which speaks well for a diocese of 350,000 parishioners.
Yet these wounds run deep.
The diocese now knows of 22 men who say Schaeufele molested them. How could this have gone on so long? Did church leaders turn a blind eye? Or were they so unskilled and skittish about sex that they just didn't look hard enough?
In places such as Louisville and Boston, lawsuits and prosecutions have forced church leaders to expose their inner workings. Not so in St. Petersburg. The church here remains mostly private.
This case breaches that. Schaeufele's career began when people trusted their priests without reservation. Church leaders rarely discussed sex or, heaven forbid, questioned troubled children. Even the No. 2 man in the diocese could harbor abusive secrets of his own.
Schaeufele's downfall came as church leaders suspended priests, offered counseling to victims and informed the faithful.
It has been a painful awakening.
In the rectory
Schaeufele, 55, was ordained in 1975 and assigned to St. Petersburg's Cathedral of St. Jude. It wasn't until 27 years later that the church hierarchy questioned him about inappropriate conduct with boys. Chancellor Robert Gibbons took notes of their conversation.
"I was trying to show I cared for him. (He came) from a terrible family."
At his third assignment, Epiphany of Venice, he fondled a 15-year-old during an overnight visit. "I could see there was a deep emptiness in the boy. I just didn't know how to fulfill it."
Such rationalizations are common, say therapists who treat priest molesters. Many were abused as minors, their sexuality stunted, and they turn to children for friendship. An Epiphany boy, identified as John Doe in a 2002 lawsuit, says Father Bob lived in an apartment on school grounds. Doe and other boys hung around after school, playing basketball and the priest's Odyssey system, an early video game.
When he was 11 or 12, Doe says, Father Bob took him and another boy to church property on the Myakka River. The priest gave them beer, and they stripped to their underwear and went swimming.
Nobody touched anybody, says Doe, now in his 30s. "I think he was testing us. He was seeing if we would drink and tell something that was bad."
Doe kept mum about the Myakka trip. Before long, he says, he found himself naked on Father Bob's bed, with the priest trying to give him an enema. "He said, 'This will make you feel better.' "
Barbara Zucco, Epiphany's youth director, says Father Bob would volunteer for youth group activities, like saying Mass during weekend sleep-overs at the church. "Not all priests would spend that much time with teenagers."
"I wanted to pull my hair out," Zucco says. "It was like I had another kid."
If anyone should have been attuned to Schaeufele, it would have been Richard Allen, another priest who lived at Epiphany while working off church grounds. Earlier in his career, Allen molested an adolescent. Before going to Venice, he says, he studied mental health at Loyola University in Chicago, where he got counseling that helped him understand himself and prevent further problems.
Allen says Schaeufele constantly had boys in the Epiphany rectory. "I yelled at him to get them out of there. I was losing my stuff."
D'Angelo and McLoughlin
Former Bishop Thomas Larkin, in charge during Schaeufele's early years, remembers no complaints. Schaeufele's personnel file was run of the mill.
Little wonder. The church's handling of two other cases suggests minimal insight into pedophilia, and a distaste for investigation.
The answer was grim: D'Angelo had molested four boys, ages 9-15. Miami sent him to a Maryland treatment center, which pronounced him cured. He was back doing parish work when parents of his victims complained. Miami shipped him off to St. Petersburg.
After receiving Miami's letter, a St. Petersburg diocese spokeswoman says, church leaders paid "special attention" to D'Angelo's conduct. But that monitoring apparently was closely guarded. Monsignor Laurence Higgins, a vicar general and chairman of the personnel board in the early 1980s, says nobody clued him in.
"I never had any knowledge at all" about D'Angelo's problems until 1996, Higgins says. That's when four more men sued the diocese, saying D'Angelo molested them at Tampa's St. Peter Claver and Good Shepherd parishes, where his conduct was being monitored.
Then there was Father Ed McLoughlin. He came to Venice Epiphany just as Schaeufele was leaving. Church documents released in a lawsuit show that McLoughlin quickly became "overly attached" to a young parishioner.
The boy's sister said McLoughlin kept her brother in the rectory overnight about once a week and once took him on a long vacation.
In 1983, the diocese sent McLoughlin away for treatment for depression and "inappropriate conduct with youngsters." But no one from the church ever questioned the boy or his family, his sister says.
Therapists said McLoughlin had trouble controlling his sexual impulses and he needed to separate from the young parishioner. Having been through treatment, the therapists said, McLoughlin could teach high school.
Instead, the diocese transferred him to St. Charles Borromeo in Port Charlotte, under the supervision of his brother, pastor Nicholas McLoughlin. Nicholas put Ed in charge of the youth group.
What followed was a decade of complaints and suspicions.
One assistant priest at St. Charles said he complained that Ed kept a boy overnight in the rectory, but Nicholas did nothing. Another priest testified that priests at St. Charles commonly referred to Ed McLoughlin as a pedophile.
In 1997, a former parishioner identified as J.S. filed a lawsuit that accused a music director of molesting him. J.S. said he confided in his priest, Ed McLoughlin, who spanked him and began molesting him as well. J.S. won a $500,000 settlement from the Venice diocese, which by then had split off from St. Petersburg.
"That's why Symons could never really be tough on it," Stevens says. "There were people who knew about his background."
Chester Gillis, theology professor at Georgetown University, says "a culture of denial" about sexuality hampered the church's capacity to halt abuse. "The assumption was that the priest did not have a sexual life."
The church is like a family, Gillis says. "There are certain things families don't talk about. It's like enablers in an alcoholic situation. Nobody says Dad is drinking too much."
Witness Father Esteban Soy. As parish priest, he supervised Schaeufele and McLoughlin in Venice. Several people saw boys in the rectory and the on-grounds apartment. Not Father Soy. In a deposition, he swore he never saw any such thing.
Why did the diocese send his assistant, McLoughlin, away for treatment? Soy said he did not know. No one told him, and he never asked.
The Atari priest
Early in the 1980s, Schaeufele spent 18 months at Sacred Heart in Pinellas Park. Nine men, now in their late 20s and 30s, accuse him of molesting them there. A few remember fondling, but their anger centers on dildos and enemas, which Father Bob called "cleansing." They say he received as well as gave.
Abuse often occurred in the rectory, they say, where Father Bob kept pornographic magazines and let them play Atari, his latest video game set.
He took them ice skating, to Chuck E. Cheese's and to Bally's, where racquetball was followed by showers and hot tubs. For his generosity, they say, Father Bob wanted to paddle their bare bottoms.
Former altar boy Brian Gruber recalls when Father Bob taught him to scuba dive.
"He helped me take off my shorts and pulled down my underwear. He commented that I was going to be a lady killer. I was embarrassed, but he said, 'You don't have to be embarrassed by the human body. It's something God gave you.' "
A few days after Gruber turned 12, he says, Father Bob "told me to come over. He had a gift. He owed me birthday spankings."
When Gruber bent over the bed, he says, Father Bob sodomized him with the handle of a hairbrush. Gruber remembers the pain, then a trip to get an ice cream cone. "He was talking about how this was our secret."
St. Petersburg attorney Joseph Saunders represents 12 of Schaeufele's accusers. One said Father Bob arranged a signal after Sacred Heart's parish priest, Alexander Rinaldo, yelled at him for bringing boys into the rectory.
"The boys would knock a code on the door," Saunders says. "(Schaeufele) would answer the door if he was alone. If Rinaldo was there, he wouldn't."
Rinaldo has since died.
One accuser told Pinellas Park police that even the confessional was tainted. Outside the booth was a nameplate, advising which priest was inside. Schaeufele often would sit behind the wrong nameplate. Boys troubled by their treatment in the rectory couldn't unburden themselves in the confessional.
"I think Father Bob may have known that would be one area that he could become exposed in," the man told police. "We would always joke in the school: You never know if you're going to get Father Bob in there. Well, I realize today that he took our ability away to confess."
Why didn't the boys tell their parents, their teachers, somebody?
Some were just entering puberty, with only vague notions that the overtures were wrong. They just wanted to play Atari and go to Chuck E. Cheese's. They thought no one would believe them.
"You were always taught to trust in priests," says Chris McCafferty, another former altar boy who says Father Bob gave him enemas. "Your uncle is a priest. Your aunt or cousin is a nun. How can you tell somebody that?"
After Sacred Heart, Schaeufele moved to St. Rita's in Pasco County, then Holy Cross in St. Petersburg, where a red flag went up in 1994.
A young priest complained that Father Bob, the parish pastor, had children in his room with no other adults present. Church officials say the young priest alleged no wrongdoing -- just that rectories were off-limits to lay people.
But sex clearly was on the hierarchy's mind.
"I am confident you did nothing immoral or illegal, but this action was very imprudent and potentially dangerous for your reputation, that of the other priests in the rectory, and all of us," Monsignor John Neff, vicar for clergy, wrote to Schaeufele, with copies to church leaders.
Again, no one in the church sought out the children involved, nor their parents, to see what they might have to say.
"We had to assume nothing immoral or illegal had happened," Neff said recently. "We certainly would question more things now."
A cracked pot
St. Jude's, St. Vincent de Paul, Epiphany, Sacred Heart, St. Rita's, Holy Cross -- hundreds of altar boys and dozens of fellow priests passed through Schaeufele's orbit before the old birthday spanking finally brought him to diocese headquarters.
By then, Bishop Robert N. Lynch was alert. More than a dozen priests have been accused during his tenure. Though a few were exonerated, Lynch says, many were burdened by their secrets and confessed.
Schaeufele's interview with Chancellor Gibbons had barely begun when the discussion shifted far beyond the birthday spanking. Schaeufele revealed he had touched the 12-year-old from St. Jude's and the 15-year-old from Epiphany.
"I've been praying over it," he said. "I need to go for evaluation and treatment."
Lynch suspended him and distributed a letter to his former parishes, inviting other victims to come forward.
Schaeufele had just left Holy Cross after 10 years as pastor. The current pastor, Tom Anastasia, says parishioners were heartsick.
"All the good things that Father Bob did when he was here are not eliminated because of this sickness, or whatever you call it," Anastasia says. "But people felt betrayed. When you trust someone, and that person serves you, and you find out later about a dark side, the stars are knocked out of your eyes."
Lynch visited the church soon after he suspended the priest.
"One lady was crying," Anastasia said. "The bishop was so good. He said, 'I'm very happy you have good memories of Father Bob. Treasure them. Pray for him. But also remember there are people out there who don't have good memories. Remember to pray for them, too.' "
McCafferty, the former altar boy, says Father Bob's downfall is no happy ending. It "made me remember things I never wanted to remember again in my life. I cut those things out, now it is coming back. These aren't things I want to remember."
Schaeufele has pleaded not guilty to five counts of capital sexual battery on four boys who were under 12 at the time. Tuesday's trial involves a 28-year-old who belonged to the Sacred Heart youth group, run by Father Bob. The man says he was 10 when the priest sodomized him with his thumb and made him bleed.
In a letter to the Times from jail, Schaeufele says he first heard callings from God in the second or third grade and entered seminary after high school.
"I wanted to be a servant for the Lord," he says. "That was, and still is, my goal in life."
He recounted a fable he says "may help to understand me a little." A servant carried two water pots every day from a well to his master's house. Water leaked from a crack in one of the pots. That pot tried to apologize to the servant.
"The water-bearer showed the clay pot how he used the pot's crack to water the flowers on one side of the path and thereby provide flowers for the master's table."
Schaeufele says he has comforted people in death and sickness, fed the hungry, ministered in jail and counseled women who had abortions.
"God is still using me and I am still learning how to listen to him and trust him," he says. "I still want to be an instrument for his use."
At the Pinellas County Jail, he is allowed one visitor a day. Richard Yentzer, a Holy Cross parishioner, tries to go once a week. Schaeufele "is human," Yentzer says. "Whereas some of the priests seem more like watchdogs, he was a shepherd."
Schaeufele, 6-feet-3 and 380 pounds at his arrest, has lost 100 pounds and trimmed his beard. Women from Holy Cross have measured him so they can get him a new suit for trial.
He is kept in solitary, says Yentzer. Two or three times a week, he plays basketball by himself on the jail court.
"He said, 'This is my monastery. I'm content with that.' "
When people address him as Father Bob, Schaeufele cautions them to stop. Church policy forbids him from holding himself out as a priest.
-- Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
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