Franciscan leaders

Franciscan leaders (from left) the Revs. Robert J. D’Aversa, Giles A. Schinelli and Anthony M. Criscitelli walk together to Blair County Courthouse in Hollidaysburg in this file photo from April 14, 2016.

Charges have been dropped against one of three Franciscan friars accused of failing to properly supervise suspected serial child sexual abuser Brother Stephen Baker.

Blair County President Judge Jolene Kopriva dismissed the counts of conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children against the Rev. Anthony “Giles” A. Schinelli, minister provincial for the Third Order Regular, Province of the Immaculate Conception from 1986 until 1994, due to the statute of limitations having been reached. 

Cases – brought by the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General – will move forward against the Revs. Robert J. D’Aversa and Anthony M. Criscitelli, who succeeded Schinelli as ministers provincial, according to a ruling issued by Kopriva on Monday.

Schinelli, in his role in charge of the province, assigned Baker to Bishop McCort High School, where the brother was accused of sexually abusing upward of 90 children during his time at the private Johnstown academic institution.

Before 2007, the state law put the criminal statute of limitations at the time when a victim reached age 20. Since then, the statute has been extended until the victim’s 50th birthday. Kopriva determined “the Commonwealth has only provided prima facie evidence that Defendants D’Aversa and Criscitelli entered into an agreement for the purposes of a conspiracy charge,” and Schinelli’s “actions shall therefore be considered under the pre-2007 limitation period of two years after the victim reaches 18 years of age.”

Schinelli knew of an allegation against Baker and even sent the brother for a psychological evaluation, which determined he was no threat to children, before assigning him to Bishop McCort. 

The state contended he was then part of an ongoing conspiracy to protect Baker and the province.

Any victim of abuse at the time of Schinelli’s departure as minister provincial would have turned 18 by 2012 at the latest, meaning his statute would have run out in 2014, according to Korpiva’s determination. 

Charges were not filed until June 2016.

Charles Porter, Schinelli’s attorney, did not respond to a request for an interview.

The prosecutor would be allowed to appeal the decision, as a matter of law. 

“We are carefully reviewing the judge’s decision regarding charges against defendant Schinelli,” said Joe Grace, spokesman for the Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “The Office of Attorney General has zero tolerance for the sexual abuse of children.”

D’Aversa and Criscitelli still face charges of conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children.

 “We are pleased that the court properly denied defendants’ claim that there was insufficient evidence for the endangering the welfare of children charge to be decided by a jury,” Grace said.

 The state alleged all three friars knew Baker posed a threat but still provided him assignments in which he had access to children prior to the brother’s reported suicide in January 2013. 

Attorneys for D’Aversa (minister provincial from 1994 to 2002) and Criscitelli (2002 to 2010) argued that no conspiracy existed and that the statute of limitations had expired.

Kopriva ruled D’Aversa and Criscitelli’s “ongoing course of conduct” took place between 1994 and 2010, therefore making them subject to the post-2007 statute of limitations, which extends the time until the victim’s 50th birthday.

Schinelli, D’Aversa and Criscitelli were the only three religious leaders charged with crimes following a grand jury investigation conducted by the attorney general’s office that alleged the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona–Johnstown committed a decades-long cover-up of child sexual abuse. 

All other accusations at the time were beyond the statute of limitations.

Multiple victims of childhood sexual abuse, including state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, have been trying to eliminate the criminal and civil statutes of limitations, while also adding a retroactivity clause dealing with past allegations, such as those against Schinelli.

“The fight continues,” said Shaun Dougherty, a victim of child sexual abuse, who was anonymously mentioned in the grand jury report, and a supporter of Rozzi. “It makes me all the more determined to pursue justice.”

Dougherty described the dismissal of charges against Schinelli as “a sad day for victims across the state.”

Faithful Catholics Against Pedophilia, formed by Bolivar resident Thomas Venditti in the wake of the diocese scandal, issued a statement expressing sadness at the “loophole” that, in the group’s opinion, enabled Schinelli to go free.

Along with attempting to get the charges dismissed, the defendants also sought to sever their trials, which was denied by Kopriva, and get a change of venue, a decision the judge deferred until jury selection. 

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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