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In Wake of Pennsylvania Charges, Abuse Spotlight Falls on Religious Orders

In Wake of Pennsylvania Charges, Abuse Spotlight Falls on Religious Orders


From the Link:

U.S.-based orders have undertaken widespread reforms, but criminal charges filed against three Franciscan friars for alleged supervisory failures of a known child molester indicate problems remain.

In this April 14 photo, lawyers lead Franciscans Franciscan Fathers Giles Schinelli (front) and Anthony Criscitelli to their hearing at the Blair County courthouse in Hollidaysburg, Pa. The men are charged with allowing a suspected sexual predator to teach at a Pennsylvania high school and hold other jobs where he molested more than 100 children. – Todd Berkey/The Tribune-Democrat via AP, File

In this April 14 photo, lawyers lead Franciscans Franciscan Fathers Giles Schinelli (front) and Anthony Criscitelli to their hearing at the Blair County courthouse in Hollidaysburg, Pa. The men are charged with allowing a suspected sexual predator to teach at a Pennsylvania high school and hold other jobs where he molested more than 100 children.
– Todd Berkey/The Tribune-Democrat via AP, File

Since the sex-abuse crisis entered the national discussion in 2002, the bulk of the media attention has been on how individual Catholic dioceses have responded and the steps they have taken over the years to remove abusive clergy from ministry and protect minors and vulnerable people.

But this spring, a religious order put the spotlight on fresh concerns about Church handling of sexual abuse: Criminal charges were filed in Pennsylvania against three Franciscans friars, related to their roles in supervising a brother friar who was accused of molesting more than 100 children.

Though they have not garnered the same attention as dioceses until now, religious orders in the United States say they have also implemented new policies and practices over the past 14 years to hold abusive members in their communities accountable and protect victims.

“We were completely committed to the principle that no one who has been established as an abuser will ever practice a public ministry and certainly will not be in a position to have access to children, to youth and to vulnerable people,” said Capuchin Father John Pavlik, president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, an association of the leadership of men in religious and apostolic institutes in the United States.

Father Pavlik told the Register that almost 90% of institutes representing approximately 17,000 men in religious life have gone through an independent accreditation process of their sexual-abuse prevention policies and practices. Father Pavlik said the institutes agree to be scrutinized by an outside firm because they want to follow the bishops’ example in protecting minors.

“The religious certainly wanted to be in the same place the bishops of the United States were when it came to promulgating safeguards that would seem to actually work to protect minors and youth and vulnerable people,” Father Pavlik said.

To perform public ministry, religious brothers, monks and priests are also required to abide by norms established by the local diocesan bishop. For example, a brother or friar who works in a parish or in other diocesan facilities must undergo the same sex-abuse prevention safety training as regular diocesan priests and lay personnel.

However, some observers note that the policies and practices, as well as the accreditation process, are still voluntary and not really enforceable, since the religious orders, including the individual provincial leaders, do not answer to each other.

“The bottom line is that they are completely independent from one another. It’s like herding cats. They all do what they want,” said Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine monk who investigates clergy sex abuse for victims and their lawyers.

Wall told the Register that he believes the orders have done a comparatively poor job of handling sex-abuse cases, and he said there is no real enforcement mechanism to ensure that provincial leaders do the right thing, apart from the civil and criminal courts.


The Pennsylvania Scandal

The criminal proceedings in western Pennsylvania, where the three Franciscan friars will stand trial for child endangerment and conspiracy charges, could serve as a cautionary tale.

The Pennsylvania grand jury that returned indictments against Fathers Giles Schinelli, Robert D’Aversa and Anthony Criscitelli concluded that the defendants, who headed the Third Order Regular Franciscans of the Province of the Immaculate Conception from 1986 to 2010, should have done more to protect minors from Brother Stephen Baker, who killed himself in January 2013 after he was accused of sexually abusing dozens of teens in at least three states.

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Office — which released a scathing report earlier this year detailing decades of abuse in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown — is prosecuting the friars. News reports indicate that federal prosecutors are also considering filing racketeering charges against the diocese.

“This is a brand-new world where you have both state and federal authorities looking at the Franciscans and looking at the diocese, both, for allowing this to happen,” Wall said.

Father Pavlik said one of the most significant facts of the Pennsylvania grand-jury investigation to emerge thus far is that the TOR Franciscans had allowed their sex-abuse prevention accreditation to lapse.

Said Father Pavlik, “Why would you allow that to lapse, especially when you had people who had committed horrible crimes? You had people who were credibly accused. What were you thinking?

“You’ve got to ask the question: Why did they stop participating? I don’t know the answer to that question.”

The TOR Franciscans of the Province of the Immaculate Conception did not return a message seeking comment. In a March 15 statement, the province said it was “deeply saddened” to learn of the criminal charges.

“The province extends its most sincere apologies to the victims and to the communities who have been harmed,” the Franciscans said in the statement. The province also encouraged prayers “for healing and understanding and for all the priests and brothers who honor their vocations and the Church.”

If there is a weakness in the accrediting system, Father Pavlik said, it is that the accrediting agency, Texas-based Praesidium Inc., does not publicly report the religious institutes that have failed to be accredited or that have let their accreditation lapse.

“It seems to me that if there is a weakness somewhere in the system, it’s here,” Father Pavlik said. “If there is something that could be improved, it’d be some effort to know who isn’t accredited.”

Accreditation Information

Christy Schiller, vice president of religious services for Praesidium, told the Register that the TOR Franciscans of the Immaculate Conception Province were accredited in 2009. The accreditation lasted for three years, and the institute allowed the accreditation to lapse in 2012.

While Praesidium does not formally publish a list of institutes that are accredited or that have let their accreditations lapse, Schiller said the firm will provide that information to anyone who inquires.

“We’re happy to share that,” she said. “We can’t give any more details about the specifics of the institute because of the confidentiality clause in our contract. But a particular group’s status: That is information we’re willing to share.”

Many of the major religious orders in the United States are forthcoming if they have been accredited by Praesidium. On their websites, several orders post information about their accreditation. For example, the Society of Jesus says each province in the United States maintains Praesidium accreditation through periodic audits by independent auditors and ongoing training for each Jesuit to establish awareness, prevention and proper responses to allegations of sexual misconduct.

Christian Brother Timothy Coldwell, general councilor of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, told the Register that the De La Salle Christian Brothers in the United States are also accredited by Praesidium.

“Meeting and complying to their standards of accreditation became our first and primary goal,” Brother Timothy said. “Every one of our districts (provinces) earned early accreditation, and each have maintained it to the present.”

In August 2002, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men unanimously approved the statement“Improving Pastoral Care and Accountability in Response to the Tragedy of Sexual Abuse.” That statement facilitated the framework for CMSM’s official response, which was entitled: “Instruments of Hope and Healing: Safeguarding Children and Young Adults.”

Father Pavlik said the religious orders’ leaders, including him, who gathered in August 2002, were “appalled” at the preponderance of evidence that pointed to priests and religious in the United States who had sexually abused minors over the course of several decades.

“We quickly formed relationships with some survivors,” Father Pavlik said. “When you listen to their stories, you actually become angry, upset and disturbed that people who were committed to doing good violated the innocence and goodness of vulnerable people.”

According to Praesidium, more than 130 religious institutes, representing 90% of order priests and brothers in the United States, have attained accreditation. The agency’s work has been presented to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life at the Vatican.

While the vast majority of religious orders participate in the system, some observers point out that Church law does not compel the individual institutes to do so. Father Pavlik said he has personally appealed three times in the last five years to smaller institutes, which do not have the same financial resources as larger institutes, to become accredited. Father Pavlik said that is still no excuse for not seeking accreditation.

Said Father Pavlik, “From my point of view, you go out and creatively find a way to do this. This is the right thing to do. You have to stand with the rest of the Church.”

Areas Covered

Praesidium’s “Standards for Accreditation cover three main areas: prevention, response to abuse allegations and supervision of offenders. Prevention standards review how new members are screened, educational programs for initial and ongoing formation, systems of support and accountability and how the institute manages internal reports of potential boundary violations.

Responding standards review the institute’s response to reports of suspected abuse and the role of external review boards, while supervision standards review the management and supervision of a member who is known to have abused a minor.

Unlike U.S. dioceses, religious orders allow some members with substantiated allegations against them to remain in community, with restrictions — known as safety plans — that depend on the seriousness of the incidents and on their evaluations.

“We agreed to supervise those who were credibly accused. We set up stringent requirements for what the supervision amounts to, and every institute that agreed to do this for its members has to always be vigilant to make sure it is maintaining what it promised,” Father Pavlik said, adding that the religious orders also created an independent review board that annually reviews the safety plan. Praesidium evaluators visit the institutes to review the safety plans and speak with the supervisors and the members under supervision.

“Obviously, the people responsible have to be deeply committed to the concept that protecting children is an absolute good that cannot be compromised in any way,” Father Pavlik said. “They have to hold themselves accountable to what is required. If you do that, you will see that the statistics show we have an overwhelmingly high successful rate of preventing recidivism.”

Brother Timothy said a brother who has admitted to his offense or has had a credible accusation against him is allowed to live only in the community assigned by the provincial, or in another appropriate supervised place of residence where there is no unsupervised contact with minors or vulnerable adults.

“No separate apartment, private home or other domicile is allowed as a permanent residence for the brother offender,” said Brother Timothy, adding that communities that house a “high-risk” brother are visited by outside auditors at least once a year on an unannounced basis to ensure consistent implementation of safety-plan protocols.

“High-risk brothers will be evaluated on the basis of current empirical research,” Brother Timothy said. “The auditors will document the visits of outside auditors. Communities that are found to be out of compliance with the safety plan for a ‘high-risk’ brother will be re-visited within the next 30 days. It is understood that continued noncompliance with safety plans will result in the loss of accreditation.”



But the dynamics of living in a religious community, where one’s colleague one day can be his provincial in a few years, can cut both ways, said Terry McKiernan, of, which tracks clergy sex abuse and bishops’ handling of those cases.

Said McKiernan, “The close-knit character of religious life, where you’re all living together in community, which of course goes back to St. Benedict and beyond, is really a distinctive and important feature of religious life. It’s also in some way a distinct disadvantage when it comes to the abuse crisis. It makes it harder for the provincial to say, ‘You’re my brother, but I have to hand you over to the police.’”

McKiernan and Wall both described a decades-long pattern where religious orders, in dealing with accused abusers, would transfer alleged perpetrators to different provinces as well as institutes in other countries where the orders were present. In his old monastery, Wall recalled seeing accused monks transferred to the Bahamas, Japan and Rome.

“With the modern religious orders, you will see the provincials change every six years,” Wall said. “What they’ll do is get [the accused religious] out of the zone of scandal, make a whole bunch of promises and never follow through on them.”

Like Wall, McKiernan believes the example of the Third Order Regular Franciscans will be a motivating factor for religious superiors moving forward to walk the straight and narrow on sex-abuse cases.

“Any provincial who has to make a decision about a priest, a monk or a brother is going to think about the Third Order Regular Franciscans,” McKiernan said. “They don’t want that to happen to them. I think it’s really going to change behavior.”

The first and primary lesson of the Third Order Regular Franciscans, Brother Timothy said, is self-scrutiny.

Said Brother Timothy, “Namely, we must continually ask ourselves, ‘Are we transparent in all that concerns our life as men and women who consecrate our lives to God for people, especially young people?’ The key lesson is that it is not enough to be accountable before God — we must be accountable to God’s people.”


3 Catholic Priests Charged with Enabling Serial Predator to Sexually Assault Kids for Decades

3 Catholic Priests Charged with Enabling Serial Predator to Sexually Assault Kids for Decades

March 15, 2016 by

Giles Schinelli, Anthony Criscitelli, Robert D'Aversa

Giles Schinelli, Anthony Criscitelli, Robert D’Aversa

We learned earlier this month that a grand jury in Pennsylvania found that Church leaders in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese were responsible for the sexual abuse of hundreds of kids over several decades. Not only that, they interfered with police investigations into the matter.

While the statute of limitations has passed for most of those crimes, the same grand jury has now charged three Franciscan priests with “conspiring to enable a serial predator to sexually assault more than 100 Catholic high school students.”

It’s an unbelievable story in which all three men knew damn well what the problem was, but they did nothing to stop it. The crimes involved Brother Stephen Baker, who committed suicide a few years ago after nearly twenty years of abusing kids.

Who was responsible for this?

■ The Very Rev. Giles A. Schinelli, 73, who was minister provincial from 1986 to 1994 and allegedly assigned Baker to Bishop McCort High School despite a warning he should not have one-on-one contact with students;

■ The Very Rev. Robert J. D’Aversa, 69, who was minister provincial from 1994 to 2001 and allegedly removed Baker from Bishop McCort due to a credible allegation of sexual abuse but reassigned him to another ministry with access to youths.

■ The Very Rev. Anthony M. Criscitelli, 61, who has been minister provincial from 2002 to 2010 and allegedly continued to allow Baker unsupervised access to children.

None of the three, according to the charges, ever called law enforcement authorities about Baker’s predations.


It’s just the latest in a long line of Catholic priests behaving badly. At least this time, authorities can do something about it. It’s about damn time some of these priests are held accountable for their actions.

All three men live outside of Pennsylvania, but they’ll be arraigned very soon. I would love to see them spend the rest of their lives in prison. Though, to be fair, they deserve much worse.


Attorney: Dozens more in Pa., Ohio claim abuse by friar

Attorney: Dozens more in Pa., Ohio claim abuse by friar

By John Seewer

From the link:

Brother Stephen Baker died last month shortly after it was revealed he had paid financial settlements to 11 men who claimed he had abused them when they were schoolboys.

TOLEDO, Ohio — About 50 more people have come forward to say they were sexually abused at Catholic schools in Pennsylvania and Ohio by a Franciscan brother who killed himself in January, said an attorney who settled 11 alleged abuse cases against the friar.

Brother Stephen Baker, 62, stabbed himself in the heart at a western Pennsylvania monastery on Jan. 26, a little over a week after the disclosure of financial settlements in alleged abuse cases in Warren, Ohio. A coroner told the Altoona Mirror newspaper that Baker left a short note apologizing for his actions.

The new accusers have alleged in recent weeks that they were abused between 1982 and 2007, attorney Mitchell Garabedian said Sunday. Some said Baker abused them even after he left teaching in 2000 when he would attend school events in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Garabedian said.

The latest allegations come from people in 12 states who went to school in Warren or were either middle school or high school students in Johnstown, where Baker taught and coached, Garabedian said.

The Boston attorney said he’s also heard from four people who say they were abused while Baker was at a high school in Orchard Lake, Michigan.

Baker was named in legal settlements in January involving 11 men who alleged he had sexually abused them at a Catholic high school in northeast Ohio three decades ago. The undisclosed financial settlements involved his contact with students at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren from 1986 to 1990.

Baker taught and coached at John F. Kennedy High School in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was at Bishop McCort in Johnstown from 1992 to 2000. He taught in Michigan in the mid-1980s.

Roman Catholic Bishop George Murry of Youngstown said this month that he sent letters asking for information from about 1,200 adults who attended Kennedy High School while Baker taught and coached there.

The Youngstown diocese has said it was unaware of the allegations until nearly 20 years after the alleged abuse.

Messages seeking comment were left with the Youngstown diocese and the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese on Sunday.

Sex abuse claims building against friar

Sex abuse claims building against friar

Franciscan taught in the 1990s at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown
January 26, 2013 12:09 am
By Ann Rodgers / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A Franciscan friar from Cambria County has been accused of molesting dozens of teens in at least three states, including more than 25 at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown in the 1990s.

Brother Stephen Baker, 62, has been restricted to Franciscan facilities since he was banned from ministry after an initial complaint from Minnesota in 2000, said the Rev. Patrick Quinn, minister provincial of the Franciscan Friars (Third Order Regular) of the Immaculate Conception Province in Hollidaysburg. Last week, after an attorney for 11 victims in Warren, Ohio, announced an earlier settlement of civil suits, more than 25 former McCort students contacted at least four attorneys.

Johnstown attorney Michael Parrish represents 20 of them. “I can tell you from the clients that I have spoken to that 20 is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said Friday.

The board of Bishop McCort has hired Kathleen Gallagher, a former Allegheny County prosecutor experienced with sexual assault cases, to do an internal investigation. Bishop McCort was a diocesan school until 2008, when it became independent.

The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown said it first heard an allegation against Brother Stephen in 2011 and took it to the police.

Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan confirmed that in 2011 the diocese took the allegation to the Johnstown police, who investigated. The police never sent a case to her office, but she learned of it because she inquired after recent news stories, she said. She said she couldn’t speak for the police, but that the statute of limitations for child abuse in the 1990s is complicated, changing with the year of abuse, age of the victim and degree of abuse.

“I’ve been trying to encourage anyone who feels they were victimized to come forward. If it happened at the school in Johnstown, then the Johnstown police have jurisdiction,” she said.

Johnstown police Chief Craig Faust was unavailable, according to his office.

Father Quinn, who became the Franciscan superior in 2010, said he didn’t know whether his order had told school officials of the Minnesota allegation in 2000.

“It was a single event that occurred in Minnesota. It was not in a school. He was a friend of the [victim’s] family. When we received that allegation in 2000, he was removed from Bishop McCort.”

From 2000 to 2010 he lived under supervision at St. Joseph’s Friary in Hollidaysburg and then at St. Bernardine Monastery in Newry, Blair County, Father Quinn said.

There are conflicting timelines for his years as a teacher, coach and athletic trainer at Bishop McCort. Many victims say he molested them in the guise of therapeutic massage to prevent or heal sports injuries.

The Ohio settlements were said to be in the high five figures each, with costs shared by the Diocese of Youngstown, John F. Kennedy High School in Warren and the Franciscans.

Greensburg attorney Susan Williams has filed notice on behalf of three victims. Mr. Parish is waiting.

“It’s very early in our investigation. I’m not yet in a position to point fingers specifically at people or entities. There are definitely issues with respect to who knew what and when,” he said.

Abuse allegations grow against friar in Youngstown diocese

Abuse allegations grow against friar in Youngstown diocese

Associated Press

Published: January 25, 2013 – 09:58 PM

From the link:

YOUNGSTOWN: A Catholic high school in Pennsylvania has hired an attorney to investigate allegations that a Franciscan friar named in Ohio sexual-abuse settlements molested students in Johnstown in the 1990s.

Attorney Susan Williams said three former students at Bishop McCort High School have talked to her in detail about the alleged abuse.

Brother Stephen Baker taught and coached at the church-run John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, in the late 1980s and early 1990s and at Bishop McCort in Johnstown from 1992-2000.

Bishop McCort said in a news release that it hired a Pittsburgh law firm to investigate after school trustees became aware of the allegations last week.

In Ohio, Bishop George Murry of the Diocese of Youngstown has offered assurances that children will be protected in the wake of recent financial settlements dating from alleged abuse by Baker.

The pledge came Thursday and followed last week’s announcement of settlements with 11 men who say they were abused at Kennedy. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

The Youngstown Vindicator said it was the third time in as many years that the diocese promised transparency, pledges increasingly met with skepticism from victim advocates.

In a news conference, Murry said the diocese first was alerted about the abuse in 2009 in a letter from the victims’ attorney.

A group that represents victims of clergy abuse alleged earlier in the week that there are other cases of abuse unrelated to Baker in the diocese. Murry said he knows of no other allegations but will investigate if any are known.

“We can only act on what we know,” he said.

All allegations immediately are reported to police, victims are offered pastoral or professional counseling and the person accused is placed on a leave of absence until it can be determined if the allegation is credible, Murry said.

A panel made up of lay people, including a retired police detective with experience in family issues, meets to review the evidence and decide if the allegations are credible, Murry said.

In the Kennedy case, mediation settlements involved the school, Baker’s Third Order Regular Franciscans and the diocese, which said it was unaware of the allegations until nearly 20 years after the alleged abuse. Franciscans said they responded compassionately when notified.

Because of statute-of-limitation issues, the cases were resolved without charges or lawsuits, an attorney for the former Kennedy students said.

Baker, who has been removed from public ministry, hasn’t responded to an interview request left at his Newry, Pa., monastery.