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Catholic friars sentenced for enabling predator who molested more than 100 kids.
Two Franciscan friars pleaded no contest Friday in Blair County to allowing a member of their order to sexually abuse more than 100 children at a Johnstown Catholic high school in the 1990s, according to Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office.
Robert D’Aversa, 70, and Anthony Criscitelli, 63, are the first in their religious order in Pennsylvania to be sentenced for protecting a predator, Shapiro said in a news release. They were charged in 2016 with endangering the welfare of children for failing to properly supervise Brother Stephen Baker, a Franciscan friar and child predator who was an athletic trainer at Bishop McCort Catholic High School. Baker committed suicide after allegations surfaced in 2013.
“These defendants knew the abuser was a serious threat to children but they allowed him to engage with children and have access to them as part of his job within their order,” Shapiro said. “They chose time and time again to prioritize their institution’s reputation over the safety of victims. I won’t stand for that in any institution — and any person who fails to protect and safeguard children in their care will answer to me.”
D’Aversa and Criscitelli are the last two defendants in a case that began with a grand jury investigation into the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese and originally charged three clergymen with child endangerment and conspiracy. The third, Anthony Schinelli, was dismissed from the case last year on statute of limitations grounds.
A separate grand jury impaneled in 2016 has been investigating six of the state’s other dioceses, including Allentown. It was scheduled to wrap up testimony at the end of April, with a report expected this month or next, according to state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, who testified before the panel.
At a 2016 hearing for D’Aversa and Criscitelli, a special agent with the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation said documents showed the men were aware of allegations against Baker dating to 1977.
“He molested children because these men put him in a position to molest them,” Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye said then.
From 1986 to 2010. Schinelli, D’Aversa and Criscitelli successively headed the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regular, a nationwide religious order headquartered in Holidaysburg, Blair County. D’Aversa removed Baker from the school because of a “credible” sex-abuse allegation, according to 2016 testimony, but almost immediately appointed him vocations director, which put him in regular contact with teenage boys at retreats and other events.
D’Aversa and Criscitelli pleaded no contest Friday to a first-degree misdemeanor. Blair County Judge Jolene G. Kopriva sentenced each to five years of probation and a $1,000 fine.