Two clergymen among first religious leaders in the U.S. to be held criminally liable for covering up sexual abuse of children
HARRISBURG – Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced his office has accepted pleas from two Franciscan friars for their criminal conduct in allowing a member of their religious order to sexually abuse more than 100 children over a period of many years at a Johnstown high school.
The two Franciscan supervisors are among the first clergy members in the United States to be held criminally liable for covering up sexual abuse of children by other clergy. These are the first members of a religious order in Pennsylvania to be sentenced for protecting clergy who abused children.
“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,” Attorney General 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.”
The two defendants, Robert D’Aversa, 70, and Anthony Criscitelli, 63, entered no contest pleas to endangering the welfare of children, a first-degree misdemeanor. They are the last two defendants in a case that began with a grand jury investigation and originally charged three clergymen with child endangerment and conspiracy. The third defendant, Anthony Schinelli, was dismissed from the case last year by a judge on statute of limitations grounds.
D’Aversa and Criscitelli were each sentenced today by Blair County Judge Jolene G. Kopriva to the maximum period of probation – five years. Each will also be fined $1,000 and costs of prosecution.
“The criminal sanction handed down by the court today is less significant than the convictions for covering up sexual abuse of children by a member of their order for many years,” Attorney General Shapiro said.
The Office of Attorney General charged D’Aversa and Criscitelli in 2016 with failing to properly supervise Brother Stephen Baker, a Franciscan friar and child predator accused of molesting youth while working at a Johnstown Catholic high school in the 1990s. Baker later took his own life.
D’Aversa and Criscitelli oversaw operations of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regular, a nationwide religious order with priests and friars headquartered in Holidaysburg, Blair County.
The pleas entered today were open pleas, meaning that D’Aversa and Criscitelli did not contest the charge of endangering the welfare of children.
A video of Attorney General Shapiro on the pleas entered by the friars is available here.
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