YOUNGSTOWN, Pa. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A settlement has been reached in the case of three Franciscan brothers accused of protecting a homosexual friar allegedly responsible for molesting over 100 young boys.
The terms of the out-of-court settlement, which were publicly released Tuesday, reveal that the diocese of Youngstown, Pennsylvania and the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regular, Province of the Immaculate Conception, are responsible for paying out $900,000 to 28 individuals who claim they were sexually abused by Br. Stephen Baker while he worked at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Additional clauses hold the diocese responsible for paying fees for counseling accrued by the alleged victims.
The three friars in question — Giles Schinelli, 73; Robert D'Aversa, 69; and Anthony M. Criscitelli, 61 — served successively as provincial ministers of the Franciscan Friars, in western Pennsylvania from 1986 to 2010, and as such were responsible for members of the order, including Br. Baker, who killed himself in 2013 after allegations leveled against him were made public. All three friars were awaiting trial following a hearing in mid-April.
The settlement, which had been reached in March, was only made public after victims' advocate group Road to Recovery held a press conference Tuesday, during which the terms were publicly disclosed.
The nearly $1 million settlement, which averages around $32,000 for each victim, has been labeled "offensive" and "insulting" by New England attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represented the 28 plaintiffs. "Many of my clients felt re-victimized," remarked Garabedian, who gained nationwide recognition for handling the homosexual priest abuse scandal in Boston in 2002.
The attorney notes that the per-victim settlements are significantly less than those received by other victims of Baker in 2013. "It is unfortunate that the diocese of Youngstown and the Franciscans weren't respectful enough to my clients to at least offer the same amount of money they offered earlier victims in Ohio," Garabedian stated Tuesday.
Following the release of the settlement terms, victims' advocate groups held protests outside of the diocesan offices, a move the chancellor of the Youngstown diocese admitted surprised him. Speaking on behalf of the diocese, Msgr. John Zuraw asserted his belief that the resolution was "copacetic."
"I think it's important to realize the agreements were signed by all parties involved," the monsignor noted. The intention behind keeping the settlement private, Zuraw claims, was to avoid re-victimizing the alleged abuse victims "by opening up old wounds."
Diocesan arguments, however, are not being bought by victim's advocates, with Road to Recovery founder Robert Hoatson alleging the Youngstown diocese simply took advantage of the purported victims. "They know the victims have no other options," he maintained.
Only 27 of the 28 plaintiffs are living, with Barbara Aponte pursuing the settlement on behalf of her son, Luke Bradesku, who committed suicide at 26 years old in 2003. While Aponte maintains the settlement is insufficient, she agreed to the terms in order to put an end to the case, which she contends was "hard."
To date, the various dioceses of Youngstown and Altoona-Johnstown in Pennsylvania have paid over $8 million in settlements to victims of Br. Baker.
The allegations against Br. Baker resurfaced in early 2016 following the release of a grand jury report unveiling a massive, systematic cover-up of abusive homosexual priests perpetrated by various members of the Church hierarchy in Pennsylvania. Within the report were details revealing Baker had been assigned to Bishop McCort High School by Friar Schinelli despite knowledge the friar had previously abused minors. While at the high school, 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 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 never have hired anyone with a history of abuse allegations.
Baker was removed from Bishop McCort in 2000 after a "credible" allegation of abuse was leveled against him; the brother was then appointed as provincial "vocations director," which entailed leading overnight teenage retreats all across the country among other events.
Under the leadership of Friar Criscitelli, the brother was permitted to work in a shopping mall where he had daily access to children. During this period, Baker was required to be under surveillance, but according to the grand jury report was never monitored.
In 2013, the Church announced it would be settling lawsuits brought forth by 11 of Baker's alleged victims from his time at Bishop McCort; the announcement resulted in an additional 25 claims of sexual abuse at Baker's hands.
Weeks later, Br. Baker committed suicide at St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg by driving two knives into his heart.
Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane noted the investigation is not about attacking the Catholic Church. "This is not about a religious order. This is not about Catholicism. This is about standing up for the law. ... We are teaching our children that they do not have to hide this horrific act."