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  Diocese Settles Claims of Sex Abuse by Priest

By Stephen Thompson
Tampa Tribune (Florida)
April 16, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG — The Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg has reached a $1.1 million lump-sum settlement with 12 men who said they were molested by priest Robert Schaeufele when they were boys.

They will divide that amount in accordance with a formula that breaks them up into three categories, with those who suffered the worst abuse receiving the most money, said the men's attorney, Joseph H. Saunders.

Saunders and the diocese characterized the settlement as a bittersweet arrangement. On one hand, it brings to a close a 2-year-old battle with the church that commenced when Schaeufele's victims first went to the Pinellas Park attorney. On the other, it does nothing to erase the scars etched on the men's psyches.

"No amount of money can compensate a person who was harmed as a child by someone serving in the ministry," Bishop Robert N. Lynch said in a prepared statement. "We reach this agreement for pastoral and not for legal reasons to help those who have been harmed.

"My prayer is that this settlement will help to bind up the wounds of those who have been harmed and help heal the pain of the Church of St. Petersburg," Lynch wrote.

Schaeufele, 55, is serving a 30-year sentence after pleading guilty last year to three counts of attempted sexual battery. He avoided a possible life sentence by agreeing to the deal.

Of the 12 men included in the settlement, five had filed lawsuits. Those five lawsuits will be dismissed as part of the agreement with the diocese. Two other men had also filed lawsuits, alleging they were molested by Schaeufele, but they elected not to take part in the settlement.

Chris McCafferty, a 31-year-old commercial landscaper, was one of the men Schaeufele was convicted of molesting. He also was one of the men who agreed to take part in the settlement and comes under the category of those most severely abused.

"No, I'm not happy with it," McCafferty said of the settlement, but he was not referring to the money. "I don't really care about that anymore."

McCafferty said the diocese has never been entirely forthcoming about what it knows of Schaeufele and other priests who have sexually abused their charges.

But, McCafferty said, "I have to turn a page in my life, I need to move on." He plans to sit on a special oversight committee, called Survivor Advocates for Children, that will work with the diocese to ensure more children aren't harmed. The other 11 men also will be allowed to participate on the committee, which was formed as part of the settlement.

Bobby Riddle, another victim, called the settlement "a good deal." Riddle said any of the lawsuits could have easily been thrown out of court because of statute-of-limitations constraints.

"To think you were going to become a millionaire out of this is unrealistic," said Riddle, 30. "The reward itself was him being put behind bars."

According to attorney Saunders, those who had been molested once will receive $20,000 to $25,000; those who endured multiple instances of abuse will receive $25,000 to $40,000; those who suffered severe abuse will receive $100,000 to $250,000. The men to whom Schaeufele gave enemas fall in this last category, Saunders said.

Joseph DiVito, attorney for the diocese, said the diocese has paid out a little more than $2.1 million in cash and counseling fees for the victims of abuse by 14 priests. The number includes the settlement announced Thursday.

In the Schaeufele settlement, $500,000 was paid by the Diocese's insurance carrier, and the rest came from a substantial pool of "insurance reserves" to which all parishes have contributed over the years.

Although the drawdown on those reserves was substantial, DiVito said, it was manageable, and there will be no parish assessments as a result of the Schaeufele settlement.

Contact: spthompson@tampatrib.com

 
 

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