Moral Low Ground


Franciscan Leaders Charged with Shielding Serial Pedophile Priest

Giles A. Schinelli, Robert J. D'Aversa and Anthony Criscitelli were charged with felony conspiracy and child endangerment for allowing a friar who was a known sexual predator to continue working with children. (Photo: Pennsylvania Attorney General)

Giles A. Schinelli, Robert J. D’Aversa and Anthony Criscitelli were charged with felony conspiracy and child endangerment for allowing a friar who was a known sexual predator to continue working with children. (Photo: Pennsylvania Attorney General)

Three former leaders of a Franciscan Friar order in western Pennsylvania were criminally charged on Monday with allowing a known predatory pedophile priest to work in a Catholic high school.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports Giles Schinelli, 73, Robert D’Aversa, 69 and Anthony Criscitelli, 61, were charged in Blair County Magisterial District Court with one count each of endangering the welfare of children and criminal conspiracy, both third-degree felonies. The three defendants were successively in charge of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars, Province of the Immaculate Conception in western Pennsylvania from 1986 to 2010.

The accused friars allegedly conspired to enable Brother Stephen Baker, a known predatory pedophile priest, to sexually assault more than 100 boys in multiple states between 1992 and 2010. Baker killed himself in his Newry, Pennsylvania monastery in January, 2013. NPR reports more than 100 sex abuse claims were filed by former students at Bishop McCort Hight School in Johnstwown after his death.

“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,” Attorney General Kathleen Kane said in a statement. “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.”

A grand jury found that Schinelli, who led the order from 1986 to 1994, knew Baker was barred from one-on-one contact with children but assigned him to Bishop McCort, where he worked as a sports trainer, anyway; that D’Aversa, who was in charge from 1994 to 2002, failed to inform school and law enforcement officials that Baker was removed from the school in 2000 over a credible child sex abuse allegation and that Criscitelli, the leader from 2002 to 2010, continued to allow Baker unsupervised access to children.

The grand jury also found that the order knew of at least seven other friars who had sexually assaulted minors as far back as the 1960s. One of these men, Kenneth LaPan, is still alive. Franciscan leaders repeatedly removed accused clergymen and reassigned them elsewhere where they often enjoyed continued access to children.

In October 2014, 88 of Baker’s victims received $8 million in a settlement.

The Franciscan Friars issued a statement apologizing to victims:

“We are deeply saddened by the news released today by the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General. With compassion for the victims and their families, as well as for the Catholic family and the community at large, the Province and its leadership have worked to cooperate with the Office of Attorney General throughout this investigation in the hope that this information could shed light on events that the Province, too, struggles to understand. The Province extends its most sincere apologies to the victims and to the communities who have been harmed. It invites the community to join it in prayer for healing and understanding, and for all the priests and brothers who honor their vocations and the Church.”

The charges against Schinelli, D’Aversa and Criscitelli come two weeks after an Altoona grand jury found that hundreds of children were sexually abused by at least 50 priests and other clergymen in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown over a period spanning from the 1940s to the 1980s. The 147-page grand jury report found that local children were raped, molested and traumatized by clerics who were shielded by their bishops and even law enforcement officials in Blair and Cambria counties.

“Over many years hundreds of children have fallen victim to child predators wrapped in the authority and integrity of an honorable faith,” the report stated. “As wolves disguised as the shepherds themselves—these men stole the innocence of children by sexually preying upon the most innocent and vulnerable.”

However, no criminal charges were filed in the case due to the statute of limitations.

The US Catholic Church has paid out nearly $4 billion, including $660 million in the Los Angeles archdiocese alone, to victims of sexually abusive clergy in the United States. Numerous US archdioceses, including Milwaukee, where more than 8,000 abuse allegations have emerged in recent years, have declared bankruptcy due to financial strain from settling clergy sex abuse claims.

In April 2014, Pope Francis apologized for the “evil” acts committed by pedophile priests and other clergy. Three months later, he estimated that two percent of Catholic clergy, or some 9,000 individuals including “priests and even bishops and cardinals,” are pedophiles.

In September 2009, Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, then the Vatican envoy to the United Nations, said the Church knew “that in the last 50 years somewhere between 1.5 percent and 5 percent of the Catholic clergy has been involved in sexual abuse cases.” However, Tomasi argued that the percentage of pedophiles in the Church was about the same as in other organizations.

In February 2014, the United Nations issued a scathing report condemning the “code of silence” imposed by Vatican leadership on clerics to prevent them from reporting sex crimes, as well as the Church’s practice of relocating known abusers from parish to parish “in an attempt to cover up such crimes.”

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