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  Onetime School Priest Accused of Molestations
2 Men File Lawsuit Versus Cleric, School

By Valerie Kalfrin
Tampa Tribune
November 19, 2003

TAMPA - Two former students of a Roman Catholic school filed suit Monday against the school's religious order and a priest who once taught there, alleging he abused them.

The victims, known as John Doe 82A and John Doe 82B in court papers, are 24 now but were 13 when the Rev. Terence O'Donnell is accused of molesting them at Mary Help of Christians Catholic School, 6400 E. Chelsea St.

The school, which was a boarding school at the time, became a coed middle school about four years ago and has about 120 students, officials said. It is owned by the Salesians of Don Bosco, a worldwide Roman Catholic order with U.S. headquarters in New Rochelle, N.Y.

John Doe 82B is married and lives in the Tampa Bay area, according to attorneys Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., and Joseph Saunders of Pinellas Park. John Doe 82A is single and lives elsewhere in Florida.

The lawsuit seeks more than $15,000 in damages and alleges a conspiracy and negligence on the church's part for knowing about but failing to act upon O'Donnell's "pedophile impulses and behavior."

O'Donnell was a dormitory monitor and teacher at the school in the early 1990s, records show. After the boys' parents reported the alleged abuse to the school, he was reassigned to the Salesian Boys and Girls Club in Boston, and the Salesian Provincial House in New Rochelle.

"We're here today to sound the alarm and put the order that runs this school on notice that the deception, lies and coverup can't continue," Anderson said at a news conference.

Anderson also represents four men who on Monday sued the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg and Robert Schaeufele, the defrocked priest sentenced this year to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to molesting boys in his charge.

In a prepared statement from New Rochelle, the Very Rev. James Heuser said O'Donnell has been removed from public ministry and that the state's Department of Children & Families investigated the allegations in 1993 but filed no charges.

"Should any young person have been abused while in our care, we profoundly apologize to them and their families," Heuser wrote. "We offer to assist them in any way we can and to make amends for our failures."

DCF released a statement Tuesday saying the agency could neither confirm nor deny whether a child abuse investigation took place. Anderson said the alleged investigation was "news to us."

 
 

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