HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Three Franciscan friars charged with allowing a suspected sexual predator to hold jobs where he molested more than 100 children surrendered Friday in Pennsylvania, where they were arraigned.
Robert D’Aversa, 69, Anthony Criscitelli, 62, and Giles Schinelli, 73, are free on unsecured bond until an April 14 preliminary hearing on child endangerment and conspiracy charges. Each is a third-degree felony carrying up to seven years in prison.
The friars served successively as ministers provincial who headed a Franciscan religious order in western Pennsylvania from 1986 to 2010. In that role, each assigned and supervised the order’s members, including Brother Stephen Baker, who authorities say molested scores of children, most of them at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, where he was assigned from 1992 to 2000.
Baker killed himself at the Franciscan monastery near Hollidaysburg by plunging two knives into his heart in January 2013. 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.
They’ve been released on unsecured bond, meaning they didn’t have to post monetary bail to remain free until next month’s hearing, when a local district judge will decide whether there’s enough evidence for them to stand trial. As such, Schinelli and D’Aversa will return for now to Florida, and Criscitelli to Minnesota.
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.
The friars and their attorneys didn’t immediately comment after the arraignments. The clerics had to be fingerprinted and photographed by the courts. Also, an ambulance was called after one attorney reported feeling light-headed. His status, and whom he represented, wasn’t immediately clear.
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 was charged because he 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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