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HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Three Franciscan friars are being ordered to stand trial on allegations they worked to protect a homosexual priest with a history of child molestation.
Following hours of testimony, a district judge in Blair County, Pennsylvania ruled Wednesday the Revs. Giles Schinelli, Robert D'Aversa and Anthony Criscitelli will face charges of conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children. Prosecutors allege that over two decades the three Franciscans, who successively acted as provincial ministers for the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars of the Immaculate Conception Province in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania from 1986 to 2010, repeatedly allowed Br. Stephen Baker to work with children despite his known history of abusing minors, resulting in the purported molestation of over 100 children, the vast majority post-pubescent males.
Judge Paula Aigner did not provide any explanation for her decision, and all three friars declined comment, in addition to the attorneys for Cristcitelli and D'Aversa. The legal representation for Schinelli, however, contended the friar had done nothing wrong. "It's easy to Monday-morning quarterback and say Baker was a disgusting man," admitted attorney Charles Porter. However, he continued, "there is no evidence of any conspiracy."
Alumni of Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, Pennsylvania make up the majority of the alleged abuse victims of Baker, who was assigned to work there as a religion teacher by Schinelli in 1992 and retained access to school facilities well after he had been reassigned in 2000. While at Bishop McCort, Baker volunteered to serve as the school's athletic trainer despite having no experience or training and allegedly used the position to molest male high school students, including giving massages to high school males "so they could run faster," according to one witness' testimony.
Also among those who gave testimony Wednesday was former Bishop McCort High School principal William Rushin, who asserted the Franciscans had never informed him of the past allegations leveled against Baker. "Obviously, it would have been inappropriate to have someone like that working with children," Rushin maintained.
Rushin further insists he would have never hired anyone with a history of abuse allegations.
Baker was removed from Bishop McCort in 2000 after D'Aversa learned of a "credible" abuse allegation leveled against the brother; Baker was then appointed as provincial "vocations director," which entailed leading overnight teenage retreats all across the country among other events.
The current criminal investigation into the three friars stems from a grand jury report released in early March, which had been established to investigate the allegations leveled against Br. Baker in addition to an alleged systematic, decades-long cover-up of homosexual clergy perpetrated by two former bishops of the Altoona-Johnstown diocese.
Settlements of $8 million had already been paid out to over 90 former Bishop McCort students who claim they were sexually assaulted by Baker. Prior to the lawsuits in 2013, Br. Baker committed suicide at his residence in Hollidaysburg by driving two knives into his heart.
In addition to scheduling a June 3 arraignment, Judge Aigner denied requests to dismiss the three cases based on the statute of limitations.