3 religious leaders charged in Pennsylvania abuse investigation

Earlier this month, the Attorney General's Office released a grand jury report claiming two bishops in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese helped cover up the sexual abuse of hundreds of children

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced that three men would be charged for their roles in allegedly covering up sexual abuse by Brother Stephen Baker.

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (WKBN) – Three religious leaders were criminally charged for their part in an alleged conspiracy that allowed more than 80 victims to be sexually abused by Stephen Baker and put hundreds of other children in danger, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office said.

The charges against Giles A. Schinelli, 73, Robert J. D’Aversa, 69, and Anthony M. Criscitelli, 61, were announced Tuesday by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane, who addressed the media at a news conference at the University of Pittsburgh’s Johnstown campus.

Schinelli, D’Aversa and Criscitelli are members of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars, Province of the Immaculate Conception, which is based in Hollidaysburg, Blair County. They are each charged with one count each of endangering the welfare of children and criminal 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,” 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.”

They supervised Brother Stephen Baker, who was accused of molesting children as an athletic trainer at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown.

Baker, who also worked as an athletic trainer at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, was connected with the molestation of 88 former students. He killed himself in 2013 when allegations surfaced.

Baker was allowed to “treat” children as an athletic trainer, despite no formal training in the field of sports medicine. Victim statements detailed incidents involving Baker in which he would grope the genitals of male children and sexually assault them, a grand jury report stated.

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

The office’s investigators in April 2014 took the matter to a statewide investigating grand jury, which heard testimony from a number of witnesses and reviewed more than 200 exhibits.

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

Kane said it was obvious that the men wanted to protect the diocese’s reputation, rather than the safety of the children there.

“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.”

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 later assigned him to Bishop McCort, where he had regular contact with children, the grand jury found.

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 Third Order Regulars.

Under this appointment, Baker conducted overnight youth retreats. Baker in 2008 was assigned as a volunteer trainer at Mount Aloysius College. His position allowed him to sexually offend three additional children, according to the Attorney General’s Office. Mt. Aloysius Communications Director Jack Coyle said that there was no connection between the friars and Mt. Aloysius.

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, the Attorney General’s Office says. Meanwhile, Baker lived unsupervised in Pennsylvania, at one time with another accused child predator, the grand jury found.

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

The Office of Attorney General earlier this month established a hotline — 888-538-8541 — for people to submit information related to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Kane encouraged people with information relating to Baker and the T.O.R. to call the hotline. It is being manned by investigators who have worked directly on the case.

“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.”

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