Ex-priest: 'It didn't happen'
By William R. LeVesque, St. Petersburg Times

May 15, 2003

LARGO - Robert Schaeufele, the jovial former priest everyone called Father Bob, sat calmly as the 28-year-old man testified.

The man said the priest sexually abused him nearly 20 years ago, doing things unbefitting a man of God.

Robert Schaeufele appeared to shake his head slightly at the worst of the allegations.

Schaeufele, his priest's collar and robe long since taken from him, later stood before a jury in sneakers and an over-sized blue suit and swore to God to tell the truth.

He spoke words he hasn't said publicly in a year: "It didn't happen ... I don't even remember (him) much less doing anything like that. It didn't happen."

Testimony began Wednesday in Schaeufele's Pinellas criminal trial on two capital sexual battery charges, each carrying potential life terms. Schaeufele, who resigned as a priest last year, is the first priest in the Tampa Bay area to go on trial on charges of sexually molesting a parishioner.

Prosecutors Tim Hessinger and Jim Hellickson say Schaeufele abused the boy two times in 1984, when he was 9 years old and then 10 years old, at the rectory at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pinellas Park.

The man, who is not being identified because of the nature of the allegations, said he kept the sexual abuse to himself, partly out of embarrassment and fear he would get in trouble.

He wasn't a Catholic. He lived in Bradenton and visited the church with a friend.

"I thought I had done something wrong," the man said.

He said he finally reported the alleged abuse after seeing news reports about Schaeufele, who had resigned as pastor at a Pasco County church in April 2002 after other allegations had been made against him.

"I wanted him never to be able to do it again," the man said. "And I wanted to get justice for what happened."

But Schaeufele, 55, told defense attorney Debora Moss during two hours of testimony that he wasn't capable of this behavior.

A sex toy the man and two others described seeing in the priest's room didn't exist, Schaeufele said. A vibrating device he owned was really a back massager, he said.

Schaeufele acknowledged telling a priest when allegations against him first arose that he had given another boy a spanking on his birthday. He denied it was a bare-bottomed spanking, as was reported to the diocese.

"The spanking was more out of fun than anything else," he said, noting it was his common practice on birthdays for other children.

Schaeufele denied inappropriate behavior to yet another boy 20 years ago in Venice. Then Hessinger, the prosecutor, asked Schaeufele whether he had also admitted to a diocese priest last April other instances of inappropriate behavior toward children.

Schaeufele answered softly: "Yes."

So far, 22 people accuse Schaeufele, who worked at several churches in the Catholic Dioscese of St. Petersburg during a 27-year career, of sexually molesting them when they were boys or teens. In most cases, Schaeufele faces no criminal charges because of the statute of limitations.

But capital sexual battery against a child under 12 is a charge not limited by the statute of limitations. Aside from two such charges in this case, Schaeufele also awaits trial on three other capital sexual battery charges against other alleged victims, including one in Pasco.

Moss said in opening statements that Schaeufele is innocent. She said he volunteered to church leaders one incident he didn't consider abuse and an innocent spanking.

Then the diocese sent out a press release, she said, accusing him of inappropriate behavior against children and virtually inviting people to accuse him of abuse. Alleged victims, she said, have hired a civil attorney who only gets paid if they collect cash from the church.

"Robert Schaeufele is being prosecuted for his honesty, and the Catholic Church rang the dinner bell for people to come forward and make these allegations," Moss said.

The trial is expected to be concluded today with closing arguments and jury deliberations.


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