Three Franciscan priests ordered to stand trial in sex abuse case

This combination of file photos shows Giles Schinelli, left, Anthony Criscitelli, center, and Robert D'Aversa, when they were arraigned on charges of child endangerment and criminal conspiracy at a district magistrate in Hollidaysburg, Pa.

This combination of file photos shows Giles Schinelli, left, Anthony Criscitelli, center, and Robert D’Aversa, when they were arraigned on charges of child endangerment and criminal conspiracy at a district magistrate in Hollidaysburg, Pa.

By Peter Smith

Hours of testimony and legal jousting led to a quick conclusion Wednesday afternoon when a judge ordered three Franciscan priests to stand trial on charges of conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children for their oversight of a sexually abusive friar.

Blair County District Judge Paula Aigner made the ruling without elaborating after a prosecutor argued that the three put hundreds of children in harm’s way over nearly two decades by assigning the late Brother Stephen Baker to work among them.

“The safety of children was on the line,” Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye said during closing arguments. The friar’s supervisors responded as a “bureaucracy,” he said, informing their insurance company but not Baker’s supervisors or parents at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown. They decided “how much risk was appropriate to expose other people’s children to,” he said.

Defense lawyers countered that the priests knew little of what is now known about Baker’s attacks — and that they acted responsibly on what they knew.

“It’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback and say Baker was a disgusting man,” said Charles Porter, representing the Very Rev. Giles Schinelli. But, he said, “there is no evidence of any conspiracy.”

But Mr. Porter said afterward he wasn’t surprised by the decision because the burden of proof to send a case to trial is lower than for a conviction, which would require proof beyond reasonable doubt.

The hearing took place at Blair County Courthouse. Judge Aigner set a June 3 arraignment date. She also rejected motions to dismiss the cases under the statute of limitations.

All three of the defendants are former ministers provincial for the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars of the Immaculate Conception Province, based here in Hollidaysburg. In addition to Father Schinelli (who led the order from 1986 to 1994), the other defendants are the Very Revs. Robert J. D’Aversa (1994-2002) and Anthony Criscitelli (2002-2010).

They sat wordlessly behind their attorneys during the proceedings, dressed in black clerical garb.

Baker committed suicide in January 2013 at the Hollidaysburg monastery when the enormity of his offenses became publicly known. Authorities now say he molested more than 100 children in Johnstown and elsewhere, but this case hinges on what his supervisors knew and when they knew it.

Attorneys for the three Franciscans aggressively cross-examined the investigators who testified in the case. The lawyers argued there is no evidence among the 8,000 pages of internal Franciscan documents seized by authorities that show the three ever sat down together to talk about what they knew of Baker’s assaults and how to handle him.

Special Agent Jessica Eger of the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation maintained that Father Schinelli knew of an allegation against Baker in the early 1990s, reported it to the province’s insurance company, but never told officials at Bishop McCort.

Mr. Porter said the allegation was vague and that Father Schinelli referred Baker to a mental health clinic, but that the friar passed the clinic’s psychological evaluation, which found no evidence of sexually deviant tendencies.

Still, Mr. Dye said no parents, aware of such facts, would have consented to having their child taught by Baker if they had known what his superiors knew.

Father Schinelli assigned Baker to work as religion teacher at Bishop McCort beginning in 1992.

Baker also volunteered as an athletic trainer and molested the athletes he was ostensibly helping with stretching, equipment fitting and therapy.

Baker often used such occasions to grope the players’ private parts and digitally penetrate them anally, according to a grand jury report released in March. A former student testified earlier this month that Baker molested him so many times it came to seem normal and that many fellow students talked of similar experiences.

Retired Bishop McCort High School Principal William Rushin testified that no one told him when he hired Baker in 1992 of any allegation against him, and that he received a positive reference from John F. Kennedy Catholic High School near Youngstown, Ohio — where Baker taught and where victims later came forward.

Mr. Rushin said he never hired any staff member with such an allegation against him.

Father D’Aversa removed Baker from the school in 2000 after another allegation surfaced from an earlier Baker assignment in Minnesota. But Father D’Aversa appointed him as vocations director, giving him regular access to children, including on overnight retreats.

Robert Ridge, representing Father D’Aversa, argued that his client did put numerous restrictions on him.

Even after concerns grow and Father D’Aversa removed Baker from that assignment, Baker continued to work at the Friar Shop — a gift store at the Altoona Mall — and to volunteer at St. Clare of Assisi Church in Johnstown.

“That’s endangering children in the mall,” testified Special Agent Eger. But attorney James Kraus, representing Father Criscitelli, disputed the idea that “you are endangering children by allowing someone to go in public.”

Ms. Eger also said that even though Father Criscitelli put Baker on a “safety plan,” the friar’s supervisor in Hollidaysburg went on a sabbatical and there is no evidence anyone else was assigned to mind him. Father Criscitelli himself was working in Minnesota.

The three priests belong to a tiny group — also consisting of a Missouri bishop and a Philadelphia monsignor — who have ever been charged with covering up for an abuser.

Afterward, a victim’s advocate watching the court proceedings said he was “thrilled” with the judge’s ruling.

“One of the things victims have been waiting for is for the criminal courts to be able to judge these matters,” said Robert Hoatson, a former priest and director of the New Jersey victim support group Road to Recovery.

Complete Article HERE!


Oklahoma City archbishop ‘assessing situation’ after concerns raised about Lawton priest

by Carla Hinton

A Roman Catholic leader said Monday he is “assessing the situation” regarding a Lawton priest who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor involving a young woman.

Paul S. Coakley, archbishop

The Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, issued the second of two prepared statements about the Rev. Jose Alexis Davila on Monday evening.


The archbishop’s remarks came as some parishioners of Lawton’s Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church began voicing their concerns about Davila after news of his misdemeanor surfaced recently.

Diane Clay, archdiocesan spokeswoman, said Coakley had received emails and telephone calls from some parishioners of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church about Davila after recent media reports that Davila pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in 2012 in San Diego.

Clay said most of the parishioners voicing their uneasiness were those whose children attend St. Mary’s Catholic School in Lawton. Clay said as pastor or parish priest of a church tied to a school, the priest is part of the school environment.

In his prepared statement released Monday evening, Coakley said he wanted to ensure that people felt safe.

“It is important that we operate in an open environment where people in our parishes and institutions feel safe and welcome to practice their faith. In regard to Father Davila, we are assessing the situation,” Coakley said. “Those who work in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City — priests, staff, teachers, employees and volunteers — understand they are required to follow the strict policies and procedures in place to create and maintain a safe environment — no exceptions.”

He said his staff conducted a full investigation of Davila before the priest was appointed to serve as an associate pastor of Blessed Sacrament in December 2015.

Clay said in March, Davila was moved from the Lawton parish to Elgin as administrator when one of the archdiocese’s international priests returned home. She said he continued helping at Lawton’s Blessed Sacrament, however, and Coakley recently appointed him to serve as the church’s pastor, effective in June.

Clay said before coming to Oklahoma, Davila pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in 2012 in San Diego and was sentenced to probation for three years and community service, which he completed. In 2015, San Diego Superior Court granted Davila a petition for relief, which officially withdrew his plea of guilty and dismissed the accusation against him.

Meanwhile, a victims’ group is dissatisfied with Coakley’s rationale for employing Davila.

Coakley said his staff’s investigation of Davila included a background check and lengthy interviews of leaders from Davila’s former employers in the dioceses where he served.

“While Father Davila’s actions with an adult parishioner five years ago occurred in the presence of others at his office in California, he understands that those actions were perceived as inappropriate. He accepted the consequences of his lapse in judgment,” Coakley said in his initial prepared statement released Saturday.

However, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a support group for clergy abuse victims, said Coakley’s remarks about Davila are “misleading.”

David Clohessy, St. Louis director of SNAP, said Monday that he believed Coakley’s statement included several “deceptive” points. Clohessy said his group takes exception to Coakley describing the San Diego incident regarding Davila and a 19-year-old female parishioner as a “lapse in judgment” and “perceived as inappropriate.” The group claims the incident was “criminal and hurtful.”

The archbishop’s statement released Saturday reads as follows:

“It is important that we operate in an open environment where people in our parishes and institutions feel safe and welcome to practice their faith. While Father Davila’s actions with an adult parishioner five years ago occurred in the presence of others at his office in California, he understands that those actions were perceived as inappropriate. He accepted the consequences of his lapse in judgment.

“Without excusing or justifying his behavior, I think he can now safely and appropriately return to ministry. Some actions such as the sexual abuse of a child are so grievous that the perpetrator must be permanently removed from ministry. This was not one of those actions.

“Before allowing him to serve in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, my staff conducted a full investigation, including a criminal-background check, probationary period and lengthy interviews with leaders from dioceses in which Father Davila has served. Father Davila has been open and forthcoming about his experience. He is committed to the strict code of ethical conduct expected in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and he understands — as do all of our priests, staff, teachers, employees and volunteers — that they are required to follow the policies and procedures in place to create a safe environment — no exceptions.”

The San Diego Union Tribune reported in January 2012 that Davila initially pleaded not guilty to three counts of misdemeanor sexual battery stemming from accusations that he inappropriately touched a young woman at his San Diego home.

The news outlet said the priest was serving at St. Jude’s Shrine of the West when the accusations were made. The Union Tribune reported that 50 supporters showed up in San Diego Superior Court to support Davila at his arraignment.

The newspaper reported that the case was referred to the district attorney’s office for review, but the office rejected it and the matter was forwarded to the city attorney’s office, which handles misdemeanor prosecutions in San Diego.

Complete Article HERE!


Catholic Diocese of Yakima won’t list names of abusers on website

By Jane Gargas

The Lay Advisory Board of the Catholic Diocese of Yakima will not be listing the names of local clergy on its website who have had credible claims of sexual abuse leveled against them.

The board last month discussed listing priests’ names on the diocesan website and took no action nor made any recommendations to Bishop Joseph Tyson.Joseph J. Tyson

The seven-member group, which meets quarterly, investigates any allegations of sexual misconduct in the local Catholic church.

The subject arose after the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle published a list of clergy and other church personnel accused of sexually abusing children on its website in January. The 77 names were those who either admitted abuse, had credible claims made against them or claims established to be true, the Seattle Archdiocese said.

In an email sent last week to the Yakima Herald-Republic, Monsignor Robert Siler, Yakima Diocese chancellor, explained that the lay advisory board concluded that the names of credibly accused priests here already had been made public, either released in notices by the diocese, listed in this newspaper or named in the legal system.

“While the Bishop will continue to consult widely (including the Board) as to the advisability of making any further public release of names, the Diocese does not see a pressing need to do so at the present time,” Siler wrote.

He added that the Diocese is continuing to provide safe-environment training to its clergy, employees and volunteers, as well as provide care for victims and investigate any cases of alleged sexual abuse.

Since 2003, the Herald-Republic has published the names of 16 priests and church personnel, who served in the Yakima Diocese and who were determined to have credible allegations of abuse of minors made against them. Ten are deceased, and none is still active in the ministry.

Complete Article HERE!


Charlotte gay wedding defies United Methodist Church rules

Pastor, retired bishop marry same-sex couple at Charlotte’s First United Methodist Church

Officiating at the wedding could result in reprimand or a church trial if complaints are filed

The denomination’s Book of Discipline only sanctions marriage between a man and a woman


John Romano (L) and Jim Wilborne, both 52 and both of Charlotte, were married Saturday at First United Methodist Church in uptown Charlotte.

By Tim Funk

They knew it could mean a reprimand or even a church trial that might end their careers.

Still, the pastor of Charlotte’s First United Methodist Church and a retired bishop who once did jail time with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. decided to go ahead over the weekend and preside at the wedding of John Romano and Jim Wilborne.

The two Charlotte men became the first same-sex couple in North Carolina to get married – at least publicly – in a United Methodist church.

But the mainline denomination’s Book of Discipline sanctions only marriage between a man and a woman. So there could be consequences for the Rev. Val Rosenquist and Bishop Melvin Talbert – the clergy who performed the wedding – if any complaints are filed with Bishop Larry Goodpaster, who leads the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Pastor Val Rosenquist (L) and Bishop Melvin Talbert, who presided over the first same-sex wedding in a United Methodist church in North Carolina.

Pastor Val Rosenquist (L) and Bishop Melvin Talbert, who presided over the first same-sex wedding in a United Methodist church in North Carolina.

Rosenquist, senior pastor since last July at First United Methodist, the uptown Charlotte church where Saturday’s marriage took place, said on Sunday that the Book of Discipline has “institutionalized oppression and discrimination.”

Last August, she said, the leadership board at First United Methodist voted that any member of the church could get married in the sanctuary, even if that defied the Book of Discipline.

“These folks are our brothers and sisters,” Rosenquist, 59, said about LGBT members. “It’s just a matter of obeying our covenant with one another throughout the church, that we are to minister to all and to treat all the same. I’m just following what I was ordained to do, what I was baptized to do.”

The 81-year-old Talbert, a retired United Methodist bishop based in Nashville and a one-time leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, spent three days and three nights in a jail cell with King in 1960. He called his disobedience of Methodist rules against same-sex marriage an act of “biblical obedience.”

“Discrimination is discrimination, no matter where it is, and it’s wrong,” Talbert said. “I hope that what we did here yesterday will be an act of evangelism for people … who are looking for safe places to come because they don’t want to be identified with anti-gay (sentiment).”

On Sunday, Talbert delivered the sermon at First United Methodist Church, telling about 150 people in the pews that, like African-Americans, women and other past victims of discrimination, LGBT persons are being ridiculed and ostracized “simply because of the way God created them.”

He also pointed out what the congregation already knew: “Your pastor could have complaints filed against her, and I could, too. … But it’s the right thing to do. If it costs us, if there are consequences, so let it be.”

Reached Sunday by the Observer, Michael Rich, communications manager for the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, released a brief statement on behalf of Goodpaster.

“We are aware of the wedding at First United Methodist Church on Saturday,” it read. “Bishop Goodpaster will follow the procedures in The Book of Discipline if a formal complaint is filed.”

Goodpaster is scheduled to retire in September.

Bishop Melvin Talbert

Bishop Melvin Talbert

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Mainline Protestant denominations such as the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have given their clergy the green light to perform gay weddings in their sanctuaries.

But the United Methodist Church, the country’s largest mainline denomination with about 7 million U.S. members, remains officially opposed to “same-gender marriage,” as do some other denominations – including the Southern Baptist Convention and the Roman Catholic Church.

Just weeks after North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage was thrown out by a lower federal court in 2014, Goodpaster sent a letter to clergy in his conference reminding them that the United Methodist Church’s rules had not changed.

Ministers can attend same-sex weddings, Goodpaster said in his letter. But, he added, any who preside at a same-sex marriage ceremony or sign the marriage certificate could face possible reprimand or even a church trial.

Goodpaster told the clergy then that he could not permit “actions counter to the Book of Discipline,” the denomination’s rule book.

Rosenquist and Talbert said they both alerted Goodpaster before the Saturday wedding that they planned to go ahead with it, whatever the consequences.

First United Methodist Church has long been among Charlotte’s gay-friendly churches. It was the first Charlotte church, in 2014, to join the Reconciling Ministries Network, a national coalition of United Methodist groups that advocate for LGBT persons and others “pushed to the margins,” in the words of the uptown Charlotte church’s then-pastor, the Rev. Jonathan Coppedge-Henley.

The Book of Discipline could be changed at the denomination’s next General Conference, set for May in Portland, Ore. But the global denomination is divided on same-sex marriage, with opposition from churches in Africa as well as from conservatives in the United States. There has even been talk in recent years about the denomination splitting over the issue.

In 2012, at the General Conference in Tampa, Talbert stood up to say that the church needed to practice biblical obedience by striking language in the Book of Discipline that he said “criminalizes clergy for ministering to gays and lesbians.”

Since then, he has been taking that message around the country, urging progressives to stand up and tell conservatives that “it’s our book, too. We can read it and interpret it.” In 2013, Talbert married a same-sex couple in Alabama. A complaint was filed and, a year later, there was a settlement without a trial.

The most famous case of a Methodist minister defying the same-sex marriage ban came in 2007, when the Rev. Frank Schaefer, then of Pennsylvania, officiated at the wedding of his gay son. A church court later defrocked him, though he was subsequently reinstated.

Romano and Wilborne, the Charlotte couple married at First United Methodist on Saturday, said they wanted to be married in the church where both have been active – Wilborne for 20 years.

“It was just so amazing to us to be married in our own church,” said Romano, 52, a furniture sales representative, “and not do it under the radar, but do it in a way to promote change.”

Wilborne, 52, who has been with Romano for more than five years, said the couple felt it was important to stay in their United Methodist Church. “We didn’t leave it to go where it was easier (to get married),” he said. “We stayed here because we love this church. … It’s our home. We just feel blessed. We’re at the right place at the right time to have this opportunity.”

They said the Saturday wedding was attended by more than 250 people – including about 30 supportive United Methodist clergy. Also in attendance: Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, who is a friend of the couple’s.

Not everyone was pleased. On Sunday, after Talbert’s sermon at the 11 a.m. service, a former member of the church stood up at his pew to object to the same-sex wedding and to Talbert’s justification for it. His words competed with an announcement that the collection would be taken up, so few in the church heard him.

Former teacher Charles Walkup later told the Observer he said that “as one who’s personally dealt with homosexuality, I affirm that the Methodist (Book of) Discipline is correct.”

Walkup, who ended his membership in the church after it joined the Reconciling Ministries Network, added that he tried to speak up because “Jesus warned of false shepherds who mislead his precious sheep.”

But the church members who attended Sunday seemed happy about the marriage and what they called the courage of their pastor.

“Val is doing what the church needs – going out on a limb without complete support from the church hierarchy. But it is the right thing to do: We’re all God’s children,” said Patricia Ingraham, a retired banquet manager who has been a church member since 2006. “Some of my dearest friends are gay. Why should they be treated differently than I’m treated?”

Complete Article HERE!


Where Do Priests Accused Of Abuse Go?

by Amna Shoaib


Churches in South America are buzzing with priests who were transferred there from places like U.S. and U.K. But many of these priests have a dark, unknown past.

A lot has changed in U.S. and U.K. in the past several decades. As society distances itself from the hold of religious institutions, the power of clerical authorities has waned in the developed countries. This has weaved new patterns on our social fabric, but one undeniably positive thing to come out of this change was that priests and religious figures are no longer immune to the law of the land.

After exhaustive investigations revealed that priests often targeted vulnerable children in the church, authorities started to take action and more priests were made to pay for the crimes. This policy means that churches no longer welcome priests accused of molestation.

where do priests go1

So where do these priests go?

The Catholic Church, if it cannot protect its priests in developed countries, conveniently sends them to places where they will not have to face the consequences of their actions.

A recent report by GlobalPost sheds light on this chilling new trend of the Catholic Church sending accused priests to places like Peru and Brazil.

One such priest is the Rev. Jan Van Dael, 76, a Belgian living in Caucaia, Brazil, who is being investigated by the Brazilian and Belgian authorities on a plethora of child abuse allegations.

Jimmy Chalk for Global Post

Jimmy Chalk for Global Post

But in the northeastern Brazilian city where he lives, Van Dael enjoys a fairly relaxed life. There are no authorities ousting him from his position and taking him into custody, no TV channel hogging him all day.

Van Dael, under his charity, distributes soup to locals and is allowed to be in dangerous proximity to children. During the interview with GlobalPost, he reached out to touch a child’s hair, affectionately saying that he reminds him of a boy he had in his house in Rio de Janeiro. Van Dael’s room is lined with photos of children.

Father Van Dael in his room-Jimmy Chalk for Global Post

Father Van Dael in his room-Jimmy Chalk for Global Post

These are all the perks of the retirement plan offered by the Catholic Church to priests accused of rape and abuse. Spend a lifetime preying on children, before the church sends you off to a place where no one questions your morals.

The horrific thing is, the Catholic Church uses this as a tried and true method. This is how many abusive priests escaped prosecution or even public accusations in the U.S. At the first signs of suspected abuse, church authorities would simply transfer the priest in question. These constant transfers allowed many priests to go on a reign of molestation against the very children they were supposed to shepherd.