Kane: 3 Franciscan officials charged for allowing 'predator' access to kids

By Brad Bumsted And Debra Erdley
March 15, 2016

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane discusses a grand jury report detailing sexual abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese during a news conference at the Blair County Convention Center on Tuesday, March 1, 2016.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Tuesday accused three Franciscan Friars officials responsible for personnel assignments of allowing a child predator in the order to sexually abuse about 80 victims and put hundreds of other children in jeopardy

The so-called “ministers provincial” for the order “turned a blind eye to the innocent children they were entrusted to protect,” Kane said at a news conference. The charges stem from a two-year investigation of allegations against Brother Stephen Baker, who killed himself in 2013 by stabbing himself in the heart. His death was ruled a suicide.

A statewide grand jury reviewed evidence obtained through a search warrant executed in June 2015 at the Saint Bernadine Monastery in Hollidaysburg, where Baker lived.

The three men, who now live out of state, were charged with one count each of endangering the welfare of children and one count each of criminal conspiracy.

Kane's office identified them as Giles A. Schinelli, 73, Robert J. D'Aversa, 69, and Anthony M. Criscitelli, 61. Their preliminary arraignments will be scheduled over the next few days, investigators said.

Kane herself is a criminal defendant facing charges in an unrelated case of perjury, obstruction of justice and official oppression in Montgomery County. She maintains her innocence.

A statewide grand jury report found the three ministers for the “Third Order Regulars” of the Franciscans engaged in efforts to protect the image and reputation of the order at the expense of kids. Leaders of the organization knew of a sexual abuse allegation against Baker as early as 1988, yet he was assigned to Bishop McCort Catholic High School in 1992 without any warning to school officials, the grand jury said.

It was reminiscent of conduct cited in a scathing 147-page grand jury report Kane released March 1 in Altoona saying hundreds of kids had been sexually abused by about 50 priests over four decades. That report detailed bishops ignoring sexually abusive conduct by priests and assigning them to new parishes. But no charges were announced then because of expired statutes of limitations and in some cases, because suspects had passed away.

The new grand jury report said ministers on at least eight occasions transferred Franciscan Friars following allegations of sexual abuse of children,

“These men (Franciscans) knew there was a child predator in their organization,” Kane said. “Yet they continued to put him in positions where he had countless opportunities to prey upon children.”

Baker, 62, taught religion and served as an athletic trainer. He had access to facilities through 2010. Baker is accused of molesting more than 50 children from Bishop McCort from 1992 to 2010. He had no formal training in sports medicine but was allowed to “treat” student athletes. According to victims, he groped genitals of male students and molested them in other ways, the grand jury said. Two victims said they were assaulted on Bishop McCort grounds after Baker was officially removed from the school.

“His modus operandi is said to have been to tell athletes they needed massages to prevent injuries, then to proceed to rub them down with oils, including their genitals,” said the Bishop Accountability website.

He was alleged to have assaulted students in at least two other states: Ohio and Minnesota.

The allegations against the three ministers, who exercised “total control” over assignment of personnel, include:

• Schinelli, minister provincial from 1986 to 1994, sent Baker for a psychological evaluation. He was told Baker was not to have “one on one” contact with kids, the grand jury said, but he still assigned Baker to Bishop McCort.

• D'Aversa allegedly failed to notify school officials and law enforcement officials of the reason Baker was removed from the school in 2000 following what D'Aversa believed was a new “credible allegation” of child sexual abuse, the grand jury said. D'Aversa was minister provincial from 1994 to 2002. D'Aversa later appointed Baker vocations director of the Third Order Regulars. In that capacity he conducted overnight youth retreats across the country and as a volunteer trainer at Mt. Aloysius College in 2008

• Criscitelli, who directed personnel assignments from 2002 through 2010, allowed Baker to have access to children by permitting him to work at a shopping mall, the attorney general's office claimed. Baker was supposed to have “safety plans” governing his activities but Criscitelli never signed such plans while living in Minnesota, the grand jury said. Baker lived unsupervised in Pennsylvania and for a time lived with another predator who wasn't named, the grand jury said.

Baker allegedly molested at least a dozen students while working as a teacher and sports trainer in Ohio in the 1980's, according to the grand jury. An $8 million settlement was announced in 2013, shortly before Baker took his life, between victims and the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, Bishop McCort, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, and others.

Kane took on the case as a result of a referral by Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan. The attorney general's office was aided by FBY behavioral experts.

It's an ongoing investigation, Kane said. She encouraged more people to call a hotline (888-538-8541) if they have information about the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese.


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