Pennsylvania Charges Ex-Leaders of Catholic Order With Aiding Sexual Predator
Attorney: Hiding Sexual Abuse Is Over
Three former leaders of a Franciscan religious order in Pennsylvania were charged with felonies on Tuesday for allowing a friar who was a known sexual predator to repeatedly work with children, including as a high school athletic trainer who massaged students naked, and pull some out of class for what a grand jury report called “private physical therapy sessions.”
Tuesday’s complaint was the first time members of a Roman Catholic religious order have been charged with aiding an abuser. While the church has faced thousands of lawsuits over sexual abuse by members of the clergy in the past decade, criminal prosecutions of the supervisors accused of covering up for abusers have been rare.
The complaint, filed by the state’s attorney general, Kathleen Kane, charged three leaders of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars — Giles A. Schinelli, 73, Robert J. D’Aversa, 69, and Anthony M. Criscitelli, 61 — with conspiracy to endanger children.
The three are accused of knowing about accusations of abuse against the friar, Brother Stephen Baker, but of not reporting him to the police or removing him from positions where he had access to children. In one, he was an athletic trainer for nearly a decade at a school where he regularly told students to undress for massages.
“They were more concerned with protecting the image of the order and more concerned with being in touch with lawyers than with the flock that they served,” Ms. Kane said at a news conference Tuesday.
Lawyers and victims groups said the prosecutions were a stark warning to the church that covering up abuse could lead to jail time.
“This is the missing piece,” said David Clohessy, the director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “For years, there have been pledges of reform, but we still see the same deceitful practices because those who stay silent or lie to cover up have not been held accountable.”
Brother Baker, who is accused of assaulting more than 100 children, stabbed himself to death in 2013, leaving a note apologizing for his actions.
The charges against his supervisors came two weeks after the attorney general released a scathing report by a grand jury, which found at least 50 priests and other church employees molested hundreds of children in a small Roman Catholic diocese in central Pennsylvania over four decades. In many cases, the report said, their superiors, prosecutors and the police knew of the abuses but did not act.
Brother Baker joined the order in the early 1970s and was a teacher, coach and athletic trainer in Roman Catholic schools in Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio before coming to Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, Pa., in 1992.
Father Schinelli, the minister provincial there from 1986 to 1994, was notified of past accusations of sexual abuse against Brother Baker in Ohio, and recommendations to keep him away from children, but assigned him to the high school anyway, the grand jury found.
“They knew who he was, and yet they put him in a place where he was like a kid in a candy store,” said Richard M. Serbin, a lawyer who has represented 88 victims of Brother Baker’s abuse.
The next minister provincial, Father D’Aversa, removed Brother Baker from the school in 2000 after new allegations, the report said, but did not notify school officials or law enforcement.
Father Criscitelli took over in 2002. He allowed Brother Baker to hold overnight retreats at a local college even though, the complaint said, the supervisor knew Brother Baker was to have no contact with children.
The province issued a brief statement on Tuesday apologizing to the victims. The three accused live out of state, and investigators expect their preliminary arraignments to be scheduled in the coming days. The current minister provincial and a lawyer for the province did not respond to interview requests.
For decades, prosecutors in Pennsylvania were hesitant to go after sexual abusers and their abettors in the church, longtime lawyers in the field say. In 2012, however, the state convicted Msgr. William J. Lynn, a high-ranking official in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, of child endangerment for covering up a priest sexual abuse case.
Monsignor Lynn appealed the conviction to the State Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 2015, broadening the definition of child endangerment in a ruling last April to include even officials who had no direct supervision. That case opened the door for the grand jury to bring charges in this case, said Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.
“There was a time,” Ms. Kane said, “when the Catholic Church put a lot of pressure on prosecutors. A prosecutor didn’t want to be seen as going against the church or going against God. Times have changed.”