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Man Says He's Still Struggling With Effect Of Abuse By Priest

Apr 27, 2002 | Tampa Bay Online

The sight of a Roman collar still makes him freeze, Robert Swart says.
Forty years ago in Tampa, a priest at Sacred Heart Church molested him repeatedly, Swart says.

He's still struggling with the effects. And he's not sure whether he takes any solace from the news that his alleged tormentor quietly retired from the priesthood last month in Louisiana.

The Rev. Norman Rogge spent the past 20 years in various church assignments in Louisiana.

Rogge, now 77, once taught at Jesuit High School in Tampa and was a priest during the 1960s and '70s at Sacred Heart, records show. He now lives in a home for retired Jesuits in New Orleans and could not be reached for comment.

Police records to substantiate Swart's claims can't be located. Rogge was not charged with molesting Swart, but he did not challenge accusations of sexually abusing boys in two other cases against him in Florida brought 20 years apart.

``Rogge has been a popular priest, and that is true of his most recent work, too, in Grand Coteau [La.] where the people love him,'' Thomas Stahel, assistant to the New Orleans Jesuit Provincial, wrote this week in response to a query from The Tampa Tribune.

No complaints have been lodged against Rogge since he was assigned to St. Charles College in Grand Coteau in 1989, Stahel said.

Despite its name, St. Charles is a Jesuit retreat, and Rogge's last duties there involved household work, Stahel said. Rogge also served as an assistant in a Grand Coteau church.

His retirement coincided with questions about his past from The Times of Acadiana, a Louisiana newspaper.

In the first case against him in Florida, Rogge pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor in Tampa in 1966. A juvenile detention home resident claimed the priest groped him while watching a Tarzan movie at the old Tower drive-in on Florida Avenue, police records show. Rogge was given probation and ordered to undergo counseling.

A police report indicates a number of other juvenile home residents complained about Rogge touching them inappropriately during swimming lessons.

Rogge subsequently moved to Louisiana and was arrested again in 1985 after a return visit to Florida.

A Tampa boy told police that Rogge tried to molest him on a 1984 trip to Citrus County.

In a police affidavit, the boy was quoted as saying that Rogge tried to get him to engage in oral sex. An original charge of capital sexual battery was dropped when Rogge pleaded no contest to lewd and lascivious conduct in the presence of a child.

Rogge told a Tribune reporter at the time that nothing immoral had happened.

Recent efforts by the Tribune to locate the victim in the 1985 case were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, public records show that the victim in the 1966 case was released from a Colorado prison three years ago after a series of robbery and assault convictions and repeated escape attempts.

Swart, now in his early 50s, says he has struggled with his experiences ever since.

He said he has battled drug and alcohol abuse and never had a healthy relationship. Relatives discouraged him from getting counseling or even talking about the abuse, he said.

``Spiritually, it kind of killed me,'' he said.

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