A Minneapolis priest was charged Tuesday with failing to supervise a Franciscan brother accused of sexually abusing more than 100 children across the country over his decades-long career.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office charged the Rev. Anthony M. Criscitelli, 61, of St. Bridget parish in north Minneapolis, with one count each of criminal conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children for his handling of Brother Stephen Baker. Two other brothers — Giles A. Schinelli, 73, and Robert J. D’Aversa, 69 — were also charged with the same counts.
“…these individuals knew that Stephen Baker was a child predator and that Baker had faced allegations of child molestation in 1988 and again in 2000,” the charges said. “These individuals did not report this knowledge to police. [They] engaged in efforts to protect the image and reputation of the Franciscan Friars rather than act in the best interests of children.”
The move is precedent-setting because it’s the first time top officials in a religious order have been charged in a sex abuse case, said St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who settled an abuse claim against Baker in the early 2000s that forced Baker out of ministry.
“This is an emerging trend and an important action,” Anderson said.
Criscitelli was the Minister Provincial for the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars, Province of the Immaculate Conception, from 2002 to 2010. He was responsible for overseeing “safety plans” for members accused of abusing children, and the assignment and discipline of all friars.
But he ignored his duty to supervise Baker, the charges said, dropping Baker’s “safety plans” in the mail from his location in Minnesota and allowing a subordinate to review the plans with Baker in Hollidaysburg, Pa., where Baker lived at the monastery.
“Criscitelli ... failed to enforce those safety plans and let Baker work at a public shopping mall, engage the public at festivals held on monastery grounds, and other similar conduct,” the charges said.
The St. Bridget office said Tuesday that Criscitelli was not in, and he did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
He has served in the archdiocese since 1982, and has no record of misconduct, the church said. Tim O’Malley, director of ministerial standards and safe environment for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said in a written statement, “The Archdiocese wasn’t notified about the investigation into Father Criscitelli until today, and within minutes, initiated the process of removing him from ministry.”
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office spent two years investigating the case, and presented it to a grand jury in April 2014.
Anderson said that if the church had prior knowledge of the investigation, it should have removed Criscitelli from ministry sooner.
Church spokesman Tom Halden did not respond to questions about the church’s knowledge of the case.
“This investigation has been ongoing,” Anderson said. “As soon as he’s under investigation, he should have been pulled [from ministry] and reported as someone under investigation.”
Baker killed himself in January 2013 by plunging two knives into his chest after Ohio media reported that he sexually abused several boys at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, in the late 1980s. He had served as a religion teacher, sports trainer and baseball coach. He told the boys they needed massages to avoid injuries, and molested them as he massaged them.
According to the charges filed Tuesday, that’s the same technique Baker used to abuse more than 80 children while working at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown, Pa., from 1992 to 2000.
Criscitelli, Schinelli and D’Aversa are charged in connection with Baker’s abuse at Bishop McCort, which continued until 2010. After a “hero’s” send-off from the school, Baker returned regularly. He set up a tent outside sports practices to treat injuries, attended football camp with students, went on overnight retreats and accessed the school’s athletic facilities with the help of a teacher.
Baker had been hired as a religion teacher and equipment manager for the football team, and became popular with students. He provided private physical therapy to student athletes despite having no known training in the area, and occasionally took them out to dinner. Abuse survivors told authorities that Baker groped their genitals and abused them, often while on school grounds.
Baker served at St. Patrick’s Church in Inver Grove Heights from 1974 to 1976, and from 1978 to 1980.
Anderson is currently representing eight survivors who say they were abused by Baker during his time in Minnesota.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708