Ex-Priest to Victims: " I Am Deeply Sorry'

By David Sommer
Tampa Tribune (Florida)
June 21, 2003

CLEARWATER - Two men who were molested by a priest when they were children heard their now defrocked abuser offer them his apology Friday.

The scripted apology was a requirement of a plea deal that let Robert Schaeufele avoid the possibility of life in prison.

"I would like to admit to having administered or attempting to administer enemas to several boys between the years of 1983 and 1985, when I was a priest at Sacred Heart Church," said Schaeufele, 55. "I realize that this was a breach of trust for which I am deeply sorry. I ask forgiveness for the pain that I may have caused anyone."

Schaeufele did not look at his victims and kept his eyes locked on the floor in front of him as one of the men made his own statement.

"I want you to know how much you hurt my family. ... It wasn't just me. You know it and I know it," said Christopher McCafferty, who has publicly identified himself as a victim. "You just don't know how much you hurt all the children. All the children are now going to be safe from you, [but] we still have got to watch out for the others like you."

Schaeufele had faced two counts of capital sexual battery for molesting McCafferty and another boy who attended Sacred Heart in Pinellas Park. He also faces a third capital rape charge involving a boy who attended St. Rita Catholic Church in Dade City where Schaeufele was a priest and, later, pastor from 1985 until 1991.

Each of the three charges carried a mandatory life prison term upon conviction. A plea deal struck this week allows Schaeufele to admit guilt to reduced charges of attempted capital sexual battery in exchange for concurrent, 30-year prison terms.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Brandt Downey imposed two such sentences Friday. Schaeufele is scheduled to plead guilty to the third charge before a circuit judge in Dade City later.

Because his crimes were committed before Florida expanded its prison system and began requiring inmates to serve 85 percent of their time, Schaeufele will qualify for early release under state Department of Corrections guidelines in place in the mid-1980s.

Assistant State Attorney Tim Hessinger said corrections officials estimated Schaeufele will serve at least half of his sentence.

Last month, Schaeufele was acquitted of two additional counts of capital sexual battery involving a Bradenton youth.

After Friday's sentencing, defense attorney Debora S. Moss said the odds of her client being acquitted at three separate trials were not in his favor. He agreed to the plea bargain to "minimize his exposure," she said.

"It was a very hard decision, especially after the jury acquitted him at the first trial," Moss said.

Schaeufele, who became a priest in 1975, worked at a number of Tampa Bay area churches before he was forced to resign in April 2002 after admitting to fondling boys and sodomizing a Venice youth. The ex-priest's postings included Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Temple Terrace in 1980 and 1981, and Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Tampa from 1981 to 1983, the year he transferred to Sacred Heart.

He was pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Hudson at the time of his resignation.

After Friday's hearing, McCafferty said the fact that Schaeufele worked at nine parishes during his 27-year career bolsters his suspicions that church officials knew he had a problem.

"Somebody in the diocese knew. You don't transfer a priest this often without knowing," McCafferty said.

The diocese issued a written statement Friday saying it had never received a complaint about Schaeufele prior to 2002 and that he resigned immediately after being confronted by diocese officials.

"We hope that the conclusion of these criminal charges will help to bring healing and closure to those who have been abused," the statement said.


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