3 Franciscan friars arraigned in child endangerment case

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Three Franciscan friars charged with allowing a suspected sexual predator to hold jobs where he molested more than 100 children surrendered Friday. (WPVI)

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 confronted by the mother of one of his victims.

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 for their arraignments. 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.

"I thought I made the right decision in sending my son to this school. And my heart and my head are in conflict, because my head tells me I didn't know. My heart tells me I delivered him to a pedophile. I paid for my son to be with a pedophile," Aponte, sobbing, told reporters.

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.

Schinelli's attorney said his client will plead not guilty. The other friars' lawyers didn't comment Friday.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represented dozens of the McCort victims that settled with church officials for millions of dollars, called on other states to charge Baker's former superiors, too.

"In order to try to heal, dozens of Brother Stephen Baker clergy abuse victims want other states where Baker sexually abused children to follow the lead of Pennsylvania and indict Baker's supervisors," Garabedian said. "Evil is not having a good day."

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 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.

Schinelli had been serving 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.
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(Copyright ©2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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