Some Parishes Being Affected by Sexual Misconduct Allegations

By Josh Noem
Diocese of Venice in Florida
May 9, 2002

(Venice - May. 9, 2002) Several priests and a choir director are under investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct.

Father Robert Schaeufele, a priest of the Diocese of St. Petersburg and pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish, Hudson, has been accused of an episode of misconduct with a person under the age of 18 in the 1970s. When this allegation was reported on April 15, Father Schaeufele was removed immediately from active ministry by the Diocese of St. Petersburg and he subsequently resigned. Father Schaeufele served at Epiphany Parish, Venice, from February 1978 to June 1980 when it was part of the St. Petersburg Diocese (the Venice Diocese had not been established yet). The matter is being investigated by the St. Petersburg Diocese.

Father Richard Allen, a priest of the Diocese of St. Petersburg and pastor of St. Matthew Parish, Largo, resigned April 26 following an allegation of sexual misconduct brought against him. Father Allen served at Epiphany Parish, Venice, from August 1978 to December 1979 when it was part of the St. Petersburg Diocese. The matter is being investigated by the St. Petersburg Diocese.

Father Absalom Coutinho, a priest of the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, who was serving at Holy Cross Parish, Palmetto, was suspended on April 15 by his home diocese and Bishop John Nevins following allegations of sexual misconduct which occurred 25 years ago in New Jersey. The Diocese of Paterson reported the allegations to the county prosecutors in New Jersey and they are conducting an investigation. No further information was provided to the Venice diocese.

Pallotine Father Carl Bartholomew, who had served at St. Martha Parish, Sarasota, has been accused of sexual abuse of a minor in 1994 before he was ordained and when he was a practicing chiropractor in Bradenton. At the time the allegations were learned by the diocese on April 1, Father Bartholomew did not have any assignment or faculties to minister in the Diocese of Venice and was said to be in England. The investigation is being conducted by the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, the Pallotines.

The Venice Diocese placed Anthony Edward Battaglia II, choir director at Resurrection Parish, Fort Myers, on administrative leave without pay on April 26 when it learned that an allegation of inappropriate sexual behavior had been brought against him. This allegation arose from an incident which purportedly took place in the 1970s when Mr. Battaglia worked at the American Boychoir School in Princeton, New Jersey. No allegations of sexual misconduct have surfaced during his employment at Resurrection Parish.

Gail McGrath, director of communications for the diocese, said, "While the full circumstances of the alleged incident involving Battaglia are not known to diocesan officials at this time, our Policy and Procedural Guidelines on Sexual Misconduct by Diocesan Personnel indicate that he was to be placed on administrative leave without pay until this matter is investigated. It is important to remember that we are dealing with an allegation and that a person is presumed innocent until it is proven otherwise. However, the presumption of innocence does not preclude the diocese from taking prudent action before an investigation is completed."

Bishop Nevins has consistently assured the Catholic people in southwest Florida, "that I will continue to do all that I can to protect the well-being of all those served by the church and I express my personal sorrow to anyone who has been victimized at any time by any representative of the church." The bishop urged anyone with knowledge of sexual abuse on the part of any church employee to come forward and report it to the Department of Children and Families, 1-800-962-2873, to local law enforcement authorities and to Dr. Terry Reilly, the diocesan Case Manager, at 1-941-484-9543.

"A commitment to protecting children and eliminating sexual abuse should unite all Catholics - clergy, religious and laity," said Bishop Nevins. "Let us work together for the safety of our children and for the good of society and the Church we love, to make present the love, healing and truth of our merciful Lord."


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