Three diocese leaders allowed predator priest to continue abusing children: Attorney General

By Ivey Dejesus
March 15, 2016

Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced that three members of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regular, on charges of endangering the welfare of children and conspiracy. According to Kane, the three were responsible for giving assignments to members of the order and Kane alleges they put a brother accused of sexually molesting dozens of children in assignments that endangered more children.

Stephen Baker

Robert J. D'Aversa

Giles A. Schinelli

Anthony M. Criscitelli

[with video]

JOHNSTOWN — Three Catholic leaders from the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese are facing criminal charges for their part in an alleged conspiracy that allowed more than 80 victims to be sexually abused by a known child predator.

That predator, Stephen Baker, was a member of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars, Province of the Immaculate Conception, which is based in Hollidaysburg, Blair County. He killed himself in 2013.

Assigned for a time to work at  Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown, investigators said Baker is accused of molesting 80 children there. Despite allegations of abuse, he continued to be assigned duties —  including leading overnight retreats across the country — that investigators say put hundreds of children in danger. 

The state Attorney General's office Tuesday announced that church officials who gave Baker those assignments  — Giles A. Schinelli, 73, Robert J. D'Aversa, 69, and Anthony M. Criscitelli, 61 — have each been charged with endangering the welfare of children and conspiracy.

"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," said Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who announced the charges

in a new conference at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown.  "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."

Schinelli, D'Aversa and Criscitelli, had exclusive and total control over the assignment of personnel within the organization and made the final call on where to assign Baker, Kane said.

Tuesday's charges come on the heels of a grand jury investigation report on the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown that found that church leaders for decades knew about and concealed hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse at the hands of more than 50 priests.

In the two weeks since she released the finding of that investigation, Kane has reiterated that the ongoing investigation could result in charges being filed. None

of the priests named in the report can be charged as the statute of limitations has expired for them. Many of them are deceased.

Kane's office spent two years investigating the allegations surrounding Baker. Grand jury investigators, who heard testimony from a number of witnesses and reviewed more than 200 exhibits, issued a presentment recommending the criminal charges.

The jurors found the three friars engaged in efforts to protect the image and reputation of their order instead of acting in the best interests of the children in their care. The grand jury also found leaders of the organization knew in 1988 of a sexual abuse allegation involving Baker.

Baker, however, was assigned to Bishop McCort in 1992 as an athletic trainer and was allowed to be in contact with children without a forewarning to school officials.

Investigators found that leaders of the Third Order Regulars on at least eight

occasions transferred Franciscan Friars within their organization to other locations following sexual abuse allegations involving 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."  

Baker was assigned in 1992 to Bishop McCort, where he taught religion and worked as an athletic trainer. His assignment there lasted until 2000 but he regularly returned to participate in school events, the jury's review found. Victims said Baker had access to Bishop McCort facilities until 2010.

Baker is charged with molesting more than 80 children from Bishop McCort between 1992 and 2010.

Baker was allowed to "treat" children as an athletic trainer despite no formal training in the field of sports medicine, Kane's office said. Victim statements detailed incidents involving Baker in which he would grope the genitals of male children and digitally penetrate their anuses, the grand jury found.

The alleged conduct often occurred on the grounds of Bishop McCort and a related training facility. Two victims reported they were sexually assaulted on the Bishop McCort grounds after Baker was officially removed from the school.

Evidence obtained on the grounds of the Saint Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg showed the Third Order Regular leaders knew in 1988 of a sexual abuse allegation involving Baker.

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. He later assigned him to Bishop McCort.

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. His removal followed what D'Aversa believed was a new, credible allegation of child sexual abuse, according to the grand jury.

D'Aversa later appointed Baker vocations director of the order.

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

Baker in 2008 was assigned as a volunteer trainer at Mt. Aloysius College. His position allowed him to sexually offend three additional children, the grand jury discovered. The grand jurors found this abuse occurred because Baker was kept in active ministry, which allowed him to engage the public.

Criscitelli, the minister provincial from 2002 to 2010, further 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.

Baker lived unsupervised in Pennsylvania. He also lived at one time with another accused child predator, the grand jury found.

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 that Franciscan order 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 Third Order Regular 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.

Schinelli, D'Aversa and Criscitelli all live out of state. Investigators expect their preliminary arraignments to be scheduled in the coming days.

A hotline — 888-538-8541 — established for people to submit information related to the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown abuse cover up remains active and busy, Kane noted.



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