St. Petersburg Diocese Settles in Sex Abuse Cases

The Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg (search) paid more than $1 million to settle lawsuits filed by a dozen men who said they were sexually abused by a priest, their attorney said Thursday.

The victims claimed Robert Schaeufele (search), now 56, sexually abused them when they were between the ages of 9 and 14. The incidents happened between 1976 and the early 1990s.

"The survivors had an interest in making sure this didn't happen to other children, and the diocese was willing to work with them to provide some assurance that they can have some input," attorney Joseph H. Saunders said.

As part of the settlement, the victims will sit on an oversight committee, acting as a liaison between the diocese and clergy abuse victims. They will meet periodically with diocese officials.

Schaeufele is serving a 30-year prison sentence after pleading guilty last year to attempted sexual battery. He was removed from the ministry in 2002.

The 12 men filed the lawsuits against Schaeufele last year. An arbitrator is determining how the money will be distributed among plaintiffs.

"No amount of money can compensate a person who was harmed as a child by someone serving in the ministry," Bishop Robert N. Lynch (search) said in a statement. "We reach this agreement for pastoral and not for legal reasons to help those who have been harmed."

Also Thursday, officials said a Catholic priest in western Massachuetts being sued by three brothers for alleged sexual molestation has been placed on administrative leave. The Rev. Ronald E. Wamsher (search), 54, is the second church figure to be taken off the job this week in the Springfield Diocese.

Wamsher did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Prosecutors were reviewing information turned over by the diocese.

Michael Graziano, who is not a priest but was in charge of the diocese's Catholic Communications Corporation (search), resigned Monday after he was accused of sexual misconduct dating to 1985.