Three former leaders of a Franciscan religious order in Pennsylvania were yesterday charged with aiding a known serial abuser, Brother Stephen Baker, above, who committed suicide in 2013.
According to The New York Times, the charges, filed by the state’s Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, allege that Giles A Schinelli, 73, Robert J D’Aversa, 69, and Anthony M Criscitelli, 61 – leaders of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars – knew about accusations of abuse against Baker, but did not report him to the police or remove him from positions where he had access to children.
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.
Kane said at a news conference:
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.
Lawyers and victims groups said the prosecutions were a stark warning to the Church that covering up abuse could lead to jail time.
David Clohessy, the Director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said:
This is the missing piece. 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 apologising 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.
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 Baker in Ohio, and recommendations to keep him away from children, but assigned him to the high school anyway, the grand jury found.
Said Richard M Serbin, a lawyer who has represented 88 victims of Brother Baker’s abuse:
They knew who he was, and yet they put him in a place where he was like a kid in a candy store.
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 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.
There was a time 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.
Hat tip: Peter Sykes