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Ex-priest admits molesting boys

In a plea agreement, Robert Schaeufele acknowledges sexually abusing two boys in the 1980s. He is sentenced to 30 years in prison.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
Published June 21, 2003

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[Times photos:Carrie Pratt]
Robert Schaeufele talks with defense attorney Debora Moss after being fingerprinted in the courtroom Friday morning.
Chris McCafferty, with his back to the camera, hugs Robert Riddle after the two left court Friday, The two sex abuse victims attended Schaeufele's guilty plea and sentencing.

LARGO - Last month, former Catholic priest Robert Schaeufele testified he did not sexually abuse a boy 20 years ago and was acquitted by a jury.

On Friday, the ex-priest acknowledged what some accusers waited decades to hear.

In a plea agreement with prosecutors, Schaeufele pleaded guilty to two charges that he sexually abused two other 11-year-old boys while he was a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pinellas Park in the mid 1980s.

Pinellas-Pasco Judge Brandt Downey immediately sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

Schaeufele, 55, his arms crossed during most of the brief hearing, stood before the judge in a blue jail uniform. He read a short statement, admitted sexually abusing the two boys and apologized. "I realize this was a breach of trust for which I am deeply sorry," the ex-priest said. "I ask for forgiveness for the pain I may have caused."

Downey told him some victims might think the apology came too late. But the judge added: "I know the first step toward anything is an admission. You have at least in my mind taken that first step."

Schaeufele's two victims looked on. They supported the plea agreement. But they were unconvinced that the jovial man they knew as Father Bob really meant his apology.

"He should have admitted it a long time ago," said Robert Riddle, 29. "I thought his statement was hollow. He did it to make people think he really cares."

Defense attorney Debora Moss said her client decided to plead guilty rather than risk a life sentence if convicted of capital sexual battery charges on three unresolved cases he still faced.

She said her client also wanted to bring closure for victims and his family.

Since the crime occurred during the 1980s, Schaeufele won't have to serve 85 percent of his sentence, as is now required of inmates. Moss said her client could be released after serving 55 percent, which would make him 71 upon his release.

"I hope he suffers every day of his life in prison," said a second victim, Chris McCafferty, 31.

Schaeufele pleaded guilty to two attempted capital sexual battery charges. But as a condition of the plea, prosecutor Tim Hessinger required that Schaeufele admit the actual sexual abuse, not just an attempt.

Schaeufele couldn't plead guilty to the original charges of capital sexual battery in a plea deal because that charge carries a mandatory life term.

Schaeufele also will plead guilty to the one remaining capital sexual battery charge he faces in Pasco County. He will receive a concurrent 30-year sentence for sexually abusing a boy at St. Rita's Catholic Church in Dade City, prosecutors say.

The Diocese of St. Petersburg released a statement after the plea saying it first learned of accusations against Schaeufele in 2002.

"We hope the conclusion of these criminal charges will help bring healing and closure to those who have been abused," the diocese said.

After he was ordained in 1975, Schaeufele served in nine churches in Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Sarasota counties. In April, when Schaeufele was pastor at St. Michael the Archangel in Hudson, a man complained to church authorities about being molested by Schaeufele 20 years before.

The allegation led to Schaeufele's resignation and investigation by prosecutors and police.

The dioceses still could face lawsuits. Attorney Joseph Saunders represents 13 men who say Schaeufele abused them. Saunders declined to comment Friday on possible litigation.

[Last modified June 21, 2003, 05:34:34]


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