Three former heads of a TOR Franciscan province in Pennsylvania face criminal charges for their alleged role in enabling a friar who sexually abused more than 100 minors.
The Immaculate Conception province of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regular said it is “deeply saddened” to learn of the charges.
“The province extends its most sincere apologies to the victims and to the communities who have been harmed,” the province said in a March 15 statement. It encouraged prayer “for healing and understanding, and for all the priests and brothers who honor their vocations and the Church.”
The Pennsylvania attorney general has announced charges against Fathers Giles A. Schinelli, Robert J. D’Aversa and Anthony M. Criscitelli. From 1986 to 2010, they were the successive leaders of the Franciscan province.
The charges include child endangerment and criminal conspiracy, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
The former provincials supervised Brother Stephen Baker, TOR, who was an athletic trainer at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown, Pa. from 1992 to 2001.
Father Schinelli, 73, allegedly assigned Brother Baker to the high school despite a warning that the friar should not have individual contact with students. Father D’Aversa, 69, allegedly removed the brother due to a credible sexual abuse allegation but reassigned him to another ministry where he had contact with young people. Father Criscitelli, 61, allegedly continued to allow Baker access to children without supervision.
All three priests now live out of state.
According to the grand jury report, there was no indication that administrators at the high school knew of Brother Baker’s offenses.
The charges against the provincials are based on testimony and documents seized from St. Bernardine Monastery, the headquarters of the TOR Franciscan province.
The grand jury said the province knew of at least seven other friars who had sexually assaulted minors dating back to the 1960s. Only one of the friars is still alive. He is 93 years old.
After Brother Baker left his position at the high school, he continued to abuse boys there and at Mount Aloysius College. He would routinely lead retreats with young people.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane charged that the provincials “knew there was a child predator in their organization.”
“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,” she said.
The province said it cooperated with the investigation “with compassion for the victims and their families” in hopes of shedding light on events that the province “struggles to understand.”
In 2014 the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown reached an $8 million settlement with 88 former Bishop McCort high school students who had made abuse claims involving Brother Baker. The friar had worked in Diocese of Youngstown, which has also made settlements. Brother Baker killed himself in 2013 when the Ohio settlements became public knowledge.
The attorney general’s review of the case resulted in a March 1 grand jury report on the alleged sexual abuse of hundreds of children by more than 50 priests who had served in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown in cases dating back to the 1940s. The report charged that previous bishops put abusive priests back to ministry.
In a March 6 letter Bishop Mark Bartchak of Altoona-Johnstown said that the Catholic response to the grand jury report must be mercy, rightly understood.
“Please do not think for one moment that it simply means to forgive and forget,” he said. “There is a lot more hard work to be done in identifying and responding to the misery of our diocese at this time, including the wounds of all our brothers and sisters.”
He said the grand jury report was “filled with the darkness of sin … I deeply regret any harm that has come to children, and I urge the faithful to join me in praying for all victims of abuse.”