Central Florida pastors accused of not reporting child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania
By David Harris
March 15, 2016
Two pastors now working in the Orlando area were charged in western Pennsylvania with child endangerment on Tuesday for allowing a man to work with kids despite knowing he had a history of molestation allegations, officials say.
Friar Giles Schinelli and Father Robert D'Aversa, who were in charge of assigning members of a Franciscan religious order to various jobs, continued to allow a man to work as an athletic trainer and teacher at a high school despite sexual abuse allegations in the late 1980s and 2000.
D'Aversa now is the head pastor at St. Patrick's church in Mt. Dora and Schinelli is the director at San Pedro Center, a Catholic retreat in Winter Park. Both have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, according to the Diocese of Orlando.
The Franciscan religious order released a statement saying it was "deeply saddened" by the charges and it cooperated with the investigation.
"[The order] extends its most sincere apologies to the victims and to the communities who have been harmed," the statement said.
Over the years, more than 100 victims stepped forward accusing Brother Steven Baker, who committed suicide in 2013 amid the allegations, of inappropriate conduct.
According to the complaint filed by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, Baker was accused of misconduct in 1988 and it was recommended that he not have any one-on-one contact with children. Schinelli discussed the allegations against Baker in a 1991 letter.
"Schinelli was concerned enough about the allegations that he sent Baker for a psychological evaluation," the complaint said. "Schinelli noted the concerns that existed after Baker's evaluation in his own handwriting mere days before he assigned baker to [the high school]."
Schinelli, who was the head of the order from 1988 to 1994, never informed officials at Bishop McCort High School or law enforcement of the molestation allegations, according to the complaint.
D'Aversa succeeded Schinelli in 1994.
D'Aversa was notified in 2000 of what he deemed a "credible" allegation of child sexual abuse. While he removed Baker from the high school, he put him in another position where he worked with children who were interested in becoming priests, prosecutors said.
"Moreover, Baker continued to return to [the high school] and did sexually abuse additional children," the complaint said.
More than 80 of the victims were represented by Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who was made famous by the Oscar-winning movie "Spotlight" for his real-life role in uncovering the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.
"I believe the prosecution will empower victims to come forward and make the world a safer place," Garabedian said on Tuesday.
Baker also is accused of molesting children in Ohio and Michigan, Garabedian said.
Garabedian said millions of dollars have been paid out and more victims have since come forward.
The victim's organization Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests applauded the charges.
"We are grateful that three Catholic officials who enabled a serial predator to assault 90 kids are being criminally charged," the statement said. "Those who commit clergy sex crimes are sometimes charged. But those who conceal those crimes are rarely charged."
A third pastor with no ties to Florida also was charged in the case.
The allegations left at least one St. Patrick's church parishioner shocked.
"I don't believe [D'Aversa] is capable of doing anything that's not above board," said Joan Koontz, 80, of Mt. Dora. "He seems to be a very good person, a very helpful person and a very saintly person."
D'Aversa and Schinelli could not be reached for comment.