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For immediate release, March 16, 2016

Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office announced criminal charges against 3 members of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars (TOR) of the Province of the Immaculate Conception. The order is located in Hollidaysburg, Blair County, just south of Altoona. These friars are charged with endangering the welfare of children and conspiracy.

Grand Jury Franciscan Order Child Abuse 2016According to a March 15, 2016 press release from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), Giles A. Schinelli, 73, Robert J. D’Aversa, 69, and Anthony M. Criscitelli, 61, were charged with failing to protect children and allowing more than 80 children to be victimized by Stephen Baker, an established child molester. Baker committed suicide in 2013, after a widely reported case involving sexual abuse of at least a dozen students at a high school in Warren, Ohio during the 1980’s.

Throughout his tenure as a friar from 1970-2001, Baker bounced around multiple schools in Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota and Michigan. He was frequently involved in high school sports teams including Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, PA, which was previously associated with the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. He worked at Bishop McCort from 1992-2000, where he taught and was involved in sports.

It appears that the basis of the criminal charges against the three friars, who exercised supervisory duties, is that they allowed Baker to maintain contact with students after 2000.  In 2000, the Franciscan Order issued a press release indicating it knew of Baker’s pedophile tendencies.

However, Baker was allowed to be involved with Bishop McCort High School. After 2000, Baker maintained contact with students through high school functions, including sports events. One witness testified that Baker had access to the school facilities until 2006 or 2007 and may have been given access by a fellow teacher at Bishop McCort after that time.

The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown has been shaken by reports that hundreds of children were molested by priests and other employees over the course of decades. The OAG recently convened a special Grand Jury to investigate allegations of hundreds of reports of child molestation within the Diocese. Read more about the March 1, 2016 Grand Jury report alleging massive cover-ups by the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

The Recent Franciscan Friar Abuse Case Parallels the Philadelphia Archdiocese Priest Abuse Case

This recent case mirrors another priest abuse case in Philadelphia involving William J. Lynn, a former monsignor who oversaw priest assignments with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In 2012, a Philadelphia jury convicted Lynn of endangering the welfare of children by reassigning suspected pedophile priests to other, unsuspecting parishes in the Philadelphia area.

courthouse building United statesAfter three years in the appellate court system, the PA Supreme Court upheld his conviction. The court analyzed the version of the endangering the welfare of children law in effect at the time, before the 2006 version of the law was amended and became effective in 2007. Lynn was charged with endangering the welfare of children under this version of the law. The issue was whether the older version of the law required direct supervision of children, i.e., in order for Lynn to be guilty, did the law require that he had any direct supervision of children? The court answered that question in the negative, finding that supervisors who indirectly or generally supervised the welfare of children could be found guilty.

The new case involving the 3 Franciscan friars is based on allegations of conduct similar to the Lynn case—protecting priests who were known to abuse children and allowing them to have continued, unfettered access to children.

In its presentment, the Grand Jury in the recent case stated:

“[T]he Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars, Province of the Immaculate Conception had considerable experience in handling members of their Order against whom allegations of sexual child abuse had been levied. The Grand Jury notes that he experience did not translate into success or even appropriate handling of the offenders. However, the concept that a member of their Oder would abuse a child was not foreign to them. The Grand Jury found no evidence the Order or any Minister Provincial ever reported these allegations to the police. Faced with specific and credible allegations the Order’s Ministers Provincial chose silence over children’s safety.” (emphasis added)

Pennsylvania has seen more than its fair share of child molestation scandals. This recent case shows just how pervasive child molestation is in religious organizations. Victims of such abuse deserve justice. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s legislature has not done enough to remove roadblocks for victims who want to pursue justice in the criminal or civil courts. It’s time for Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations laws in cases of child molestation to be amended. Get more legal info about priest and clergy sex abuse law.

About Laffey, Bucci & Kent’s Sex Abuse Victims Law Practice

Brian kent lawyer member national crime victim bar associationOur firm handles a wide variety of crime victim injury cases including priest sex abuse, teacher sex abuse and medical/mental health sex abuse.

Firm founder Brian Kent is a former sex crimes unit prosecutor who takes great pride in helping victims through both the criminal and civil legal systems. The firm accepts cases throughout the U.S. Call for a free consultation. 215.399-9255 | 800-220-7600

Sources:

  • PA Office of the Attorney General Press Release, Grand jury: Conspiracy involving 3 religious leaders allowed sexual abuse of more than 80 children (March 15, 2016)
  • Thirty-Seventh Statewide Investigating Grand Jury Presentment