Pennsylvania judge orders three priests to trial in sex abuse case

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 27, 2016 5:23 PM

By David DeKok

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania judge on Wednesday ordered three Franciscan friars to stand trial on charges they endangered boys by assigning a fourth cleric they knew to be a sexual predator to work at a Catholic high school in the 1990s.

Magisterial District Judge Paula Aigner ordered Fathers Giles Schinelli, 73; Robert D’Aversa, 69, and Anthony Criscitelli, 61, to stand trial in Blair County Court of Common Pleas in Hollidaysburg, Pa., on felony charges of endangering the welfare of children and conspiracy. No date for the trial was set.

"We're obviously pleased at the court's ruling and are ready to take the case to trial," Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye, the prosecutor, said in a phone interview.

Lawyers for the three priests could not be reached for comment.

The three are accused of enabling Brother Stephen Baker, a member of their order, to sexually assault numerous boys at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. According to testimony, they assigned him to jobs where he would have contact with boys despite knowing he was an active pedophile. Baker committed suicide in 2013.

Prosecutors earlier this month used the testimony of a 30-year-old man identified only as Witness #1 to show the methods Baker used. The young man, a former student athlete at Bishop McCort, said Baker would tell athletes they needed a massage and then grope their genitals.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane filed charges against the three priests last month after releasing a grand jury report detailing decades of sexual abuse by priests in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

Reports that priests had sexually abused children and that they routinely covered up their actions first burst onto the world stage on 2002 in Boston and subsequent reports found similar patterns in many other countries and parts of the United States. The scandal has damaged the Catholic Church worldwide, eroding its moral authority and requiring costly legal settlements.

(Editing by Scott Malone and James Dalgleish)