Ex-Priest Gets Forgiveness, Time in Prison

By William R. Levesque
St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
May 6, 2004

There would be no denial, no anger at a victim's accusation, no recriminations from a man headed to prison for his crimes.

Former Catholic priest Gerry Appleby came to court Wednesday to admit he was a pedophile who sexually abused two 11-year-old brothers more than 25 years ago and to seek forgiveness from those he harmed.

"All I can say is, I'm sorry," Appleby told one victim who stood facing him in court, both men fighting tears. "Can you forgive me?"

"I've done that," the man, now 36, answered.

"God bless you."

So ended a short hearing in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court in which Appleby, 69, pleaded guilty to two reduced counts of attempted capital sexual battery and was sentenced to 12 years in prison to be followed by 20 years of sex-offender probation.

In the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop two charges of capital sexual battery after consulting with the victims. The original charges carry mandatory life sentences.

Appleby, who was arrested at his home in Texas more than a year ago, was a visiting pastor at St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic Church in Tarpon Springs in the late 1970s when the abuse took place. He was in charge of the church's youth ministry.

Appleby was never a priest of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, but belonged to a separate religious order - the Missionaries of the Holy Family.

Prosecutor Bradley Burnette said the sexual abuse took place in the church's rectory while the boys were staying overnight.

One of the brothers appeared at the sentencing and read a statement telling the priest that he had forgiven him.

"I don't want you to feel sorry for me because I have chosen to be a survivor," said the man, who is not named in the story because of the nature of the charges. "To serve a sentence now is justice delayed, but not denied."

The victim said he has suffered through depression because of the sexual abuse and has sought help from a mental-health professional.

"I want you to understand how lucky you are that you lived so long free and capable of indulging in your predatory lifestyle," the victim said.

After the victim spoke, Appleby asked for permission to speak and described problems with alcohol that he said led him to do "dumb things."

"I ask God every day, all day and all night, to forgive me," Appleby said. "He has forgiven me. Now I have to pay the consequences. I realize that. The people in Tarpon Springs were good to me. When you're an alcoholic, you're leading a double life."

After he asked for and received forgiveness from the victim, Appleby wiped tears from his eyes with the shirt of his blue jail uniform.

Appleby first came to the attention of police when one of the victims, a former altar boy, told investigators that Appleby repeatedly molested him and his brother.

Appleby worked in the area for 15 to 20 months.

Two other former priests in Pinellas have been sentenced to prison in the past year.

Episcopal priest Richard A. Pollard was sentenced to 25 years in prison last July for sexually abusing a boy at All Saints Episcopal Church in Tarpon Springs three decades ago.

Catholic priest Robert Schaeufele was sentenced to 30 years in prison last year after pleading guilty to charges that he abused three boys from 1976 to the 1990s.


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