3 Franciscan Friars Arraigned in Widespread Child Sex Abuse Case in Central Pennsylvania

By Ron Musselman
March 18, 2016

Three Franciscan Friars facing criminal charges were arraigned Friday morning in Blair County.

The men are accused of enabling a serial sexual predator to hold jobs where he molested more than 100 children.

Robert D'Aversa, 69, Anthony Criscitelli, 62, and Giles Schinelli, 73,are each charged with one count each of endangering the welfare of children and criminal conspiracy. All of the charges are felonies carrying up to seven years in prison.

They appeared before Magisterial District Judge Paula Aigner.

D'Aversa, Schinelli and Criscitelli all received $75,000 unsecured bail.

They do not have to remain in the jurisdiction, but are required to make weekly check-ins with court personnel.

A preliminary hearing has been set for April 14 at 9:30 a.m.

The trio was criminally charged Tuesday during a news conference at Pitt-Johnstown's Heritage Hall conducted by Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

Kane said the three took part in an alleged conspiracy that allowed more than 80 victims to be sexually abused by Brother Stephen Baker, a proven child predator, and put hundreds of other children in danger.

Baker was a former trainer and religious teacher at Bishop McCort Catholic High School. He committed suicide in 2013 by plunging to knives into his heart.

That occurred nine days after Youngstown, Ohio, church officials announced settlements involving 11 students who accused Baker of molesting them at schools there in the late 1980s.

"My son is dead because of your poor decision-making!" yelled Barbara Aponte, of Poland, Ohio, as the clerics entered the district court. Her son, Luke Bradesku, was abused by Baker at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, and killed himself in 2003 at 26. The Youngstown settlements stemmed from lawsuits filed by that school's former students.

At the time they were charged, the friars were assigned to duties in Florida and Minnesota. They've since been removed by their order, the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regular, Province of the Immaculate Conception.

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

Schinelli's attorney said his client will plead not guilty. The other friars' lawyers didn't immediately comment Friday.

The Pennsylvania scandal surfaced after news coverage of the Ohio settlements prompted students from Bishop McCort to file lawsuits alleging they were abused by Baker, who worked as a religion teacher, coach and athletic trainer at the school about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Eighty-eight of the McCort victims settled their claims against the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese and the Franciscan order for $8 million in October 2014, with several other former students settling individual claims since.

Schinelli assigned Baker to work at the school even after an abuse allegation surfaced in 1988 and counselors told the Franciscans in 1991 that Baker should have no one-on-one contact with students, authorities said. Under the watch of D'Aversa and Criscitelli, Baker continued working at the school or had access to its facilities, events and students, authorities said.

The attorney general also contends D'Aversa also didn't alert police about a "credible" abuse allegation against Baker in 2000, which prompted D'Aversa to remove Baker from the school. But witnesses told a grand jury that Baker continued to visit the school and attend its various events for years.

After McCort, Baker was reassigned to a position in which he held out-of-state retreats for boys ages 14 to 17 who were considering a religious vocation.








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