Robert Schaeufele is about to be released from prison. The former priest and convicted pedophile had been serving concurrent 30-year sentences, when it was announced that he would be released after serving only 12 years.
Schaeufele was a priest at a number of churches in the Tampa Bay area. Starting in 1975, he worked at churches in St. Petersburg, Venice, Tampa, Temple Terrace, and Dade City. In April 2002 within days of being accused of inappropriate contact with a young boy in the 1970s, Schaeufele agreed to resign as pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Pasco.
Complaints about Schaeufele’s inappropriate behavior began to surface shortly after he was ordained in 1975. The diocese’s response was to transfer him every time accusations arose, sparing the church embarrassment, but allowing this pedophile to continue working with children. By the time he was forced to resign there were over two-dozen credible sex abuse allegations against the priest, but most couldn’t be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had run out. Schaeufele was prosecuted in only three cases, and struck a plea deal in two of them that allowed the disgraced priest to avoid spending life in prison.
The statute of limitations in Florida allowed Schaeufele to avoid being criminally prosecuted for abusing most of his victims. By the time criminal charges were filed against him they only involved the youngest and most recent of his victims. A major factor in filing abuse cases against priests is always timing. Many victims of pedophile priests are unable to talk about abuse or face their accusers until they reach their 30s, 40s or later, putting the crime beyond the reach of the law.
The statute of limitations has an important and longstanding role in our system of criminal and civil jurisprudence, but in cases of childhood sexual abuse, it is imperative it be lengthened. Robert Schaeufele used the Florida statute of limitations to his advantage and got away with raping and abusing dozens of young boys. His crimes should have earned him a life sentence, but now after only 12 years he is being released.
The system has failed his victims, and they are left to confront once again the fear shame and anger this sexual predator caused, knowing he walks free among them again.