Three religious leaders were criminally charged Tuesday by the Office of Attorney General for taking part in an alleged conspiracy that allowed more than 80 victims to be sexually abused by Stephen Baker, a proven child predator, and put hundreds of other children in danger.
The charges against Giles A. Schinelli, 73, Robert J. D'Aversa, 69, and Anthony M. Criscitelli, 61.
"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," indicted Attorney General 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."
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.
The three men all served as minsters provincial for the Third Order Regulars, or T.O.R., meaning they had exclusive and total control over the assignment of personnel within the organization. In other words, they made the final call on where to assign Baker, who was officially assigned for eight years to Bishop McCort Catholic High School.
The Office of Attorney General spent two years investigating the allegations surrounding Baker, whose 2013 death was ruled a suicide. 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. The jurors found the three ministers provincial engaged in efforts to protect the image and reputation of the T.O.R. 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. Yet he was assigned to Bishop McCort in 1992 and allowed to be in contact with children without a forewarning to school officials.
The filing of the criminal charges comes two weeks after Attorney General Kane released the grand jury's other findings — a 147-page report that detailed the sexual abuse hundreds of children endured for decades at the hands of religious leaders and priests associated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
Attorney General Kane stressed the grand jury's review of the Baker matter revealed conduct similar to that detailed in the grand jury's report. Documentation proved leaders of the T.O.R. on at least eight occasions transferred Franciscan Friars within their organization to other locations following sexual abuse allegations involving children, the grand jury found.
"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, 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 assumed jurisdiction of this matter upon a formal conflict referral by Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan. The matter was presented to the grand jury and will be prosecuted by Deputy Attorney General Daniel J. Dye of the Office of Attorney General's Criminal Prosecutions Section. The office's Bureau of Criminal Investigations also spent a significant amount of time gathering the evidence that was presented to the grand jury.
The Attorney General's investigators also were aided greatly by behavioral experts with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Critical Incident Response Group, Behavioral Analysis Unit.
Attorney General Kane thanked all who took part in the investigation for their commitment and hard work.
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. Attorney General 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," Attorney General 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."
Click Here to read the full announcement and other background.(A person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty.)
AP: Franciscan Order Deeply Saddened By Charges