Suit Accuses Priest of Molesting Student
Lawyers Say Salesians Moved Cleric around

By Anthony McCartney
Tampa Tribune
October 13, 2004

TAMPA — A lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses a Salesian priest of sexually molesting a student at a Catholic school in Tampa in the early 1990s.

The civil court suit against the Salesians of Don Bosco, a Catholic order that operates the Mary Help of Christians School at 6400 E. Chelsea St., alleges the order knowingly allowed one of its priests to have contact with children despite allegations of molestation.

The suit, filed in Hillsborough County Civil Court, alleges that the Rev. Terence O'Donnell, who was based in Tampa in 1992 and 1993, molested a student at the school in 1992.

The suit accuses the Salesian order of shielding O'Donnell and transferring him from assignment to assignment despite knowledge that he was a threat to children. According to the suit, O'Donnell was ordained in 1970 and has worked in Columbus, Ohio; Berkeley, Calif.; New Rochelle, N.Y.; Boston and Tampa.

O'Donnell was named in another suit in Tampa filed on behalf of two former students who have accused him of molestation. Both suits were filed by Pinellas Park lawyer Joseph Saunders and St. Paul, Minn., lawyer Jeff Anderson.

The plaintiff in Tuesday's suit was identified only as John Doe 82C. According to the suit, he was 12 or 13 years old when the alleged molestation occurred.

Mary Jo Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, said the Salesians work independently in the area, with the permission of the bishop. She said comments on the lawsuit would have to come from the Salesian order.

A representative for the Salesians in New Rochelle was unavailable for comment late Tuesday.

The Salesians have been rocked by numerous allegations of abuse by priests. The order has apologized for any abuse, issuing a statement in November that read, "Should any young person have been abused while in our care, we profoundly apologize to them and their families. We offer to assist them in any way we can and to make amends for our failures."

Tuesday's lawsuit does not request a specific amount for damages but requests a judgment of more than $15,000 for "severe and permanent emotional distress."

Saunders has initiated several court cases on behalf of plaintiffs who said they were molested by priests.

In April, he won a $1.1 million settlement from the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg on behalf of 12 men who said they were abused by Robert Schaeufele while he was a priest. Schaeufele pleaded guilty in 2003 to three counts of attempted sexual battery and is serving a 30-year sentence at Gulf Correctional Institution in Wewahitchka.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.