The St. Petersburg diocese has been mostly insulated
from the scandal enveloping the Catholic church. Until now. With
Father Bob scheduled for trial next week, the story emerges of a
diocese coming to terms with ugliness long avoided.
By STEPHEN NOHLGREN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22,
They called him Father Bob, an amiable bear of a man
who never put on airs. With his scraggly beard and wayward shirttail,
no one ever mistook him for bishop material.
Older parishioners adored him. They say he was direct
and kind, you could talk to him.
Young men of the church describe a different Father
Bob, whose video games and outings exacted a terrible price. Lost
innocence still evokes shame and anger.
Allegations span two decades, at six churches, in
three counties. Boys in the rectory. Boys staying overnight. Chance
after chance for somebody, anybody, to blow the whistle.
Finally, it came down to a decades-old birthday spanking.
In April, a mother and father reported that Father Bob had taken
their son behind closed doors and paddled his bare bottom.
Such incidents raised nary an eyebrow back then. But
by last year, Catholics all over the country were challenging their
The era of trust was over. It was time to bring Father
Bob in for a chat.
* * *
Robert Schaeufele goes on trial Tuesday, accused of capital sexual
battery of a minor. Thousands of Catholic priests have worked in
the Tampa Bay area and none ever faced a jury on such charges, which
speaks well for a diocese of 350,000 parishioners.
Yet these wounds run deep.
The diocese now knows of 22 men who say Schaeufele
molested them. How could this have gone on so long? Did church leaders
turn a blind eye? Or were they so unskilled and skittish about sex
that they just didn't look hard enough?
In places such as Louisville and Boston, lawsuits
and prosecutions have forced church leaders to expose their inner
workings. Not so in St. Petersburg. The church here remains mostly
This case breaches that.
Schaeufele's career began when people trusted their
priests without reservation. Church leaders rarely discussed sex
or, heaven forbid, questioned troubled children. Even the No. 2
man in the diocese could harbor abusive secrets of his own.
Schaeufele's downfall came as church leaders suspended
priests, offered counseling to victims and informed the faithful.
It has been a painful awakening.
In the rectory
Schaeufele, 55, was ordained in 1975 and assigned to St. Petersburg's
Cathedral of St. Jude. It wasn't until 27 years later that the church
hierarchy questioned him about inappropriate conduct with boys.
Chancellor Robert Gibbons took notes of their conversation.
Schaeufele (pronounced SHOY-flee) told Gibbons that
"a couple of things had happened" over the years. After
he had moved from St. Jude's to St. Vincent de Paul in Holiday,
the priest brought a 12-year-old from St. Jude's up for a visit
and fondled him.
"I was trying to show I cared for him. (He came)
from a terrible family."
At his third assignment, Epiphany of Venice, he fondled
a 15-year-old during an overnight visit. "I could see there
was a deep emptiness in the boy. I just didn't know how to fulfill
Such rationalizations are common, say therapists who
treat priest molesters. Many were abused as minors, their sexuality
stunted, and they turn to children for friendship.
An Epiphany boy, identified as John Doe in a 2002
lawsuit, says Father Bob lived in an apartment on school grounds.
Doe and other boys hung around after school, playing basketball
and the priest's Odyssey system, an early video game.
When he was 11 or 12, Doe says, Father Bob took him
and another boy to church property on the Myakka River. The priest
gave them beer, and they stripped to their underwear and went swimming.
Nobody touched anybody, says Doe, now in his 30s.
"I think he was testing us. He was seeing if we would drink
and tell something that was bad."
Doe kept mum about the Myakka trip. Before long, he
says, he found himself naked on Father Bob's bed, with the priest
trying to give him an enema. "He said, 'This will make you
feel better.' "
Barbara Zucco, Epiphany's youth director, says Father
Bob would volunteer for youth group activities, like saying Mass
during weekend sleep-overs at the church. "Not all priests
would spend that much time with teenagers."
She appreciated that, but not his immaturity. He once
ordered in pepperoni pizza on Good Friday, a no-no for Catholics
who didn't eat meat on that day. Kids threw pizza slices against
a bathroom wall.
"I wanted to pull my hair out," Zucco says.
"It was like I had another kid."
If anyone should have been attuned to Schaeufele,
it would have been Richard Allen, another priest who lived at Epiphany
while working off church grounds. Earlier in his career, Allen molested
an adolescent. Before going to Venice, he says, he studied mental
health at Loyola University in Chicago, where he got counseling
that helped him understand himself and prevent further problems.
Allen says Schaeufele constantly had boys in the Epiphany
rectory. "I yelled at him to get them out of there. I was losing
D'Angelo and McLoughlin
Former Bishop Thomas Larkin, in charge during Schaeufele's early
years, remembers no complaints. Schaeufele's personnel file was
run of the mill.
Little wonder. The church's handling of two other
cases suggests minimal insight into pedophilia, and a distaste for
In 1976, Father Rocco D'Angelo applied for formal
acceptance into the St. Petersburg diocese. Because he had transferred
from the Miami diocese eight years earlier, St. Petersburg asked
Miami for a background report.
The answer was grim: D'Angelo had molested four boys,
ages 9-15. Miami sent him to a Maryland treatment center, which
pronounced him cured. He was back doing parish work when parents
of his victims complained. Miami shipped him off to St. Petersburg.
After receiving Miami's letter, a St. Petersburg diocese
spokeswoman says, church leaders paid "special attention"
to D'Angelo's conduct. But that monitoring apparently was closely
guarded. Monsignor Laurence Higgins, a vicar general and chairman
of the personnel board in the early 1980s, says nobody clued him
"I never had any knowledge at all" about
D'Angelo's problems until 1996, Higgins says. That's when four more
men sued the diocese, saying D'Angelo molested them at Tampa's St.
Peter Claver and Good Shepherd parishes, where his conduct was being
Then there was Father Ed McLoughlin. He came to Venice
Epiphany just as Schaeufele was leaving. Church documents released
in a lawsuit show that McLoughlin quickly became "overly attached"
to a young parishioner.
The boy's sister said McLoughlin kept her brother
in the rectory overnight about once a week and once took him on
a long vacation.
In 1983, the diocese sent McLoughlin away for treatment
for depression and "inappropriate conduct with youngsters."
But no one from the church ever questioned the boy or his family,
his sister says.
Therapists said McLoughlin had trouble controlling
his sexual impulses and he needed to separate from the young parishioner.
Having been through treatment, the therapists said, McLoughlin could
teach high school.
Instead, the diocese transferred him to St. Charles
Borromeo in Port Charlotte, under the supervision of his brother,
pastor Nicholas McLoughlin. Nicholas put Ed in charge of the youth
What followed was a decade of complaints and suspicions.
One assistant priest at St. Charles said he complained
that Ed kept a boy overnight in the rectory, but Nicholas did nothing.
Another priest testified that priests at St. Charles commonly referred
to Ed McLoughlin as a pedophile.
In 1997, a former parishioner identified as J.S. filed
a lawsuit that accused a music director of molesting him. J.S. said
he confided in his priest, Ed McLoughlin, who spanked him and began
molesting him as well. J.S. won a $500,000 settlement from the Venice
diocese, which by then had split off from St. Petersburg.
Sheldon Stevens, the attorney who won the settlement,
notes that Vicar General J. Keith Symons was second in command when
decisions were made on D'Angelo, McLoughlin and Schaeufele. Symons
left in 1983 and became bishop in Palm Beach, where he later admitted
that he molested adolescents early in his career, including at least
two boys in the Tampa Bay area.
"That's why Symons could never really be tough
on it," Stevens says. "There were people who knew about
Chester Gillis, theology professor at Georgetown University,
says "a culture of denial" about sexuality hampered the
church's capacity to halt abuse. "The assumption was that the
priest did not have a sexual life."
The church is like a family, Gillis says. "There
are certain things families don't talk about. It's like enablers
in an alcoholic situation. Nobody says Dad is drinking too much."
Witness Father Esteban Soy. As parish priest, he supervised
Schaeufele and McLoughlin in Venice. Several people saw boys in
the rectory and the on-grounds apartment. Not Father Soy. In a deposition,
he swore he never saw any such thing.
Why did the diocese send his assistant, McLoughlin,
away for treatment? Soy said he did not know. No one told him, and
he never asked.
The Atari priest
Early in the 1980s, Schaeufele spent 18 months at Sacred Heart in
Pinellas Park. Nine men, now in their late 20s and 30s, accuse him
of molesting them there. A few remember fondling, but their anger
centers on dildos and enemas, which Father Bob called "cleansing."
They say he received as well as gave.
Abuse often occurred in the rectory, they say, where
Father Bob kept pornographic magazines and let them play Atari,
his latest video game set.
He took them ice skating, to Chuck E. Cheese's and
to Bally's, where racquetball was followed by showers and hot tubs.
For his generosity, they say, Father Bob wanted to paddle their
Former altar boy Brian Gruber recalls when Father
Bob taught him to scuba dive.
"He helped me take off my shorts and pulled down
my underwear. He commented that I was going to be a lady killer.
I was embarrassed, but he said, 'You don't have to be embarrassed
by the human body. It's something God gave you.' "
A few days after Gruber turned 12, he says, Father
Bob "told me to come over. He had a gift. He owed me birthday
When Gruber bent over the bed, he says, Father Bob
sodomized him with the handle of a hairbrush. Gruber remembers the
pain, then a trip to get an ice cream cone. "He was talking
about how this was our secret."
St. Petersburg attorney Joseph Saunders represents
12 of Schaeufele's accusers. One said Father Bob arranged a signal
after Sacred Heart's parish priest, Alexander Rinaldo, yelled at
him for bringing boys into the rectory.
"The boys would knock a code on the door,"
Saunders says. "(Schaeufele) would answer the door if he was
alone. If Rinaldo was there, he wouldn't."
Rinaldo has since died.
One accuser told Pinellas Park police that even the
confessional was tainted. Outside the booth was a nameplate, advising
which priest was inside. Schaeufele often would sit behind the wrong
nameplate. Boys troubled by their treatment in the rectory couldn't
unburden themselves in the confessional.
"I think Father Bob may have known that would
be one area that he could become exposed in," the man told
police. "We would always joke in the school: You never know
if you're going to get Father Bob in there. Well, I realize today
that he took our ability away to confess."
Why didn't the boys tell their parents, their teachers,
Some were just entering puberty, with only vague notions
that the overtures were wrong. They just wanted to play Atari and
go to Chuck E. Cheese's. They thought no one would believe them.
"You were always taught to trust in priests,"
says Chris McCafferty, another former altar boy who says Father
Bob gave him enemas. "Your uncle is a priest. Your aunt or
cousin is a nun. How can you tell somebody that?"
After Sacred Heart, Schaeufele moved to St. Rita's
in Pasco County, then Holy Cross in St. Petersburg, where a red
flag went up in 1994.
A young priest complained that Father Bob, the parish
pastor, had children in his room with no other adults present. Church
officials say the young priest alleged no wrongdoing -- just that
rectories were off-limits to lay people.
But sex clearly was on the hierarchy's mind.
"I am confident you did nothing immoral or illegal,
but this action was very imprudent and potentially dangerous for
your reputation, that of the other priests in the rectory, and all
of us," Monsignor John Neff, vicar for clergy, wrote to Schaeufele,
with copies to church leaders.
Again, no one in the church sought out the children
involved, nor their parents, to see what they might have to say.
"We had to assume nothing immoral or illegal
had happened," Neff said recently. "We certainly would
question more things now."
A cracked pot
St. Jude's, St. Vincent de Paul, Epiphany, Sacred Heart, St. Rita's,
Holy Cross -- hundreds of altar boys and dozens of fellow priests
passed through Schaeufele's orbit before the old birthday spanking
finally brought him to diocese headquarters.
By then, Bishop Robert N. Lynch was alert. More than
a dozen priests have been accused during his tenure. Though a few
were exonerated, Lynch says, many were burdened by their secrets
Schaeufele's interview with Chancellor Gibbons had
barely begun when the discussion shifted far beyond the birthday
spanking. Schaeufele revealed he had touched the 12-year-old from
St. Jude's and the 15-year-old from Epiphany.
"I've been praying over it," he said. "I
need to go for evaluation and treatment."
Lynch suspended him and distributed a letter to his
former parishes, inviting other victims to come forward.
Schaeufele had just left Holy Cross after 10 years
as pastor. The current pastor, Tom Anastasia, says parishioners
"All the good things that Father Bob did when
he was here are not eliminated because of this sickness, or whatever
you call it," Anastasia says. "But people felt betrayed.
When you trust someone, and that person serves you, and you find
out later about a dark side, the stars are knocked out of your eyes."
Lynch visited the church soon after he suspended the
"One lady was crying," Anastasia said. "The
bishop was so good. He said, 'I'm very happy you have good memories
of Father Bob. Treasure them. Pray for him. But also remember there
are people out there who don't have good memories. Remember to pray
for them, too.' "
McCafferty, the former altar boy, says Father Bob's
downfall is no happy ending. It "made me remember things I
never wanted to remember again in my life. I cut those things out,
now it is coming back. These aren't things I want to remember."
Schaeufele has pleaded not guilty to five counts of
capital sexual battery on four boys who were under 12 at the time.
Tuesday's trial involves a 28-year-old who belonged to the Sacred
Heart youth group, run by Father Bob. The man says he was 10 when
the priest sodomized him with his thumb and made him bleed.
In a letter to the Times from jail, Schaeufele says
he first heard callings from God in the second or third grade and
entered seminary after high school.
"I wanted to be a servant for the Lord,"
he says. "That was, and still is, my goal in life."
He recounted a fable he says "may help to understand
me a little." A servant carried two water pots every day from
a well to his master's house. Water leaked from a crack in one of
the pots. That pot tried to apologize to the servant.
"The water-bearer showed the clay pot how he
used the pot's crack to water the flowers on one side of the path
and thereby provide flowers for the master's table."
Schaeufele says he has comforted people in death and
sickness, fed the hungry, ministered in jail and counseled women
who had abortions.
"God is still using me and I am still learning
how to listen to him and trust him," he says. "I still
want to be an instrument for his use."
At the Pinellas County Jail, he is allowed one visitor
a day. Richard Yentzer, a Holy Cross parishioner, tries to go once
a week. Schaeufele "is human," Yentzer says. "Whereas
some of the priests seem more like watchdogs, he was a shepherd."
Schaeufele, 6-feet-3 and 380 pounds at his arrest,
has lost 100 pounds and trimmed his beard. Women from Holy Cross
have measured him so they can get him a new suit for trial.
He is kept in solitary, says Yentzer. Two or three
times a week, he plays basketball by himself on the jail court.
"He said, 'This is my monastery. I'm content
with that.' "
When people address him as Father Bob, Schaeufele
cautions them to stop. Church policy forbids him from holding himself
out as a priest.
-- Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
-- Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at 727-893-8442