Three Franciscan leaders charged with abuse in western Pa.

Written by Staff Report/WITF | Mar 15, 2016 11:39 AM

Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced that three religious leaders were criminally charged today for taking part in an alleged conspiracy that allowed more than 80 victims to be sexually abused by Stephen Baker, a proven child predator, and put hundreds of other children in danger. (Courtesy of PA Internet News Service)

(Johnstown) -- A grand jury has concluded three former Franciscan leaders allowed a friar who was a known sexual predator to take jobs, including as a high school athletic trainer, that enabled him to molest more than 100 children. 

The grand jury issued a presentment recommending the criminal charges filed today.

Charges against the three, including child endangerment, were announced this morning by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, following a nearly two-year grand jury investigation.

"These men knew there was a child predator in their organization. Yet they continued to put him in positions where he had countless opportunities to prey upon children," Kane said. "Their silence resulted in immeasurable pain and suffering for so many victims. These men turned a blind eye to the innocent children they were trusted to protect."  

The three were the successive leaders of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars, Province of the Immaculate Conceptionr, which is based near Hollidaysburg in Blair County, from 1986 to 2010.

Giles Schinelli, Robert D'Aversa and Anthony Criscitelli now live outside Pennsylvania.

Schinelli is a pastoral administrator at the San Pedro Center, a Catholic retreat in Winter Park, Florida. D'Aversa is pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Community in Mount Dora, Florida. Anthony Criscitelli is pastor of St. Bridget Parish Community in Minneapolis.

Kane says the three men all served as minsters provincial for the Third Order Regulars, or T.O.R., meaning they had exclusive and total control over the assignment of personnel within the organization.

As a result, they supervised Brother Stephen Baker, who was accused of molesting children at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown and schools in Ohio.

Baker killed himself in 2013. 

At Bishop McCort Catholic High School, he taught religion and worked as an athletic trainer for the school's sports programs.

Baker is accused of molesting more than 80 children from the school between 1992 and 2010.

He was allowed to "treat" children as an athletic trainer despite no formal training in the field of sports medicine.

According to the Attorney General's Office, victim statements to the grand jury detailed incidents involving Baker in which he would grope the genitals of male children and digitally penetrate their anuses.

The grand jury reviewed evidence obtained during the execution of a search warrant on the grounds of the Saint Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg.

Documents recovered during the search showed the T.O.R. knew in 1988 of a sexual abuse allegation involving Baker.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane says the Franciscan leaders knew Baker was a sexual predator but put him in positions that enabled him to molest children.

"The evidence shows the organization's leaders acted callously when dealing with members accused of sexual abuse," Kane said. "No reports were ever made to law enforcement. As the grand jury found, the ultimate priority was to avoid public scrutiny at all costs."

The grand jury found the three ministers provincial engaged in efforts to protect the image and reputation of the Third Order Regulars (T.O.R.), instead of acting in the best interests of the children in their care.

Schinelli, the minister provincial from 1986 to 1994, sent Baker for a psychological evaluation and was told Baker was not to have one-on-one contact with children

But, according to the presentment, he later assigned him to Bishop McCort, where he had regular contact with children.

D'Aversa, the minister provincial from 1994 to 2002, allegedly failed to notify school officials and law enforcement of the reason that Baker was removed from the school in 2000. He later appointed Baker vocations director of the T.O.R.

Under this appointment, Baker conducted overnight youth retreats throughout the United States.

Criscitelli, the minister provincial from 2002 to 2010, also allowed Baker access to children by allowing him to work at a shopping mall.

He also knew Baker required "safety plans" advising no contact with minors, yet Criscitelli signed such plans while residing in Minnesota.

But, Baker lived unsupervised in Pennsylvania.

The grand jury also reviewed evidence that Baker in the 1980s molested at least a dozen students while assigned as a teacher and sports trainer at a high school in Ohio. 

The grand jury further learned the T.O.R.'s leaders had considerable experience in hiding members of the organization who were accused of sexual abuse. The evidence allegedly showed the allegations of abuse were never reported to law enforcement.

Instead, the accused members were transferred to other locations throughout the country. Meanwhile, the T.O.R.'s leaders were routinely in contact with attorneys and insurance companies to assess liability and potential payouts related to sexual abuse victims, the grand jury stated.

The charges come two weeks after Kane released the grand jury's other findings -- a 147-page report that detailed the sexual abuse hundreds of children endured for decades at the hands of religious leaders and priests associated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

Earlier this month, Attorney General's Office established a hotline -- 888-538-8541 -- for people to submit information related to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

"It is our hope that people with information will continue to reach out to us," Kane said. "As we have stressed in recent weeks, this is an ongoing investigation. One call could provide a new investigative lead. At the same time, it is our hope that we have created an avenue for the victims who have lived with this pain for years to come forward."

*This story has been corrected by the Associated Press to show all three men charged are not retired but still hold pastoral positions and to delete an erroneous statement that some abuse cases were linked to Mount Aloysius College.

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