Charges have been filed in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, against three former Roman Catholic Church religious leaders who assigned Franciscan Brother Stephen Baker to work at Bishop McCort Catholic High School, even though Baker was a known sexual predator, according to a recent Grand Jury investigation. Baker reportedly molested more than 100 children in his position as a high school athletic trainer at Bishop McCort.
"Such allegations are deeply troubling and need to be taken seriously," attorney Robert S. Marcus said. "Accusations that religious leaders knew about the abuse but did nothing to stop it are extremely upsetting. Through our work with victims of sexual abuse, we know that the emotional and psychological toll of such crimes can last a lifetime. We feel strongly about these cases and will do everything we can to help victims of sexual abuse hold the diocese accountable for its actions. Contact us 24 hours a day to find out how we can help."
Pennsylvania's Office of the Attorney General filed the charges March 14, 2016, in Blair County Magisterial District Court in Hollidaysburg against Giles Schinelli, 73; Robert D'Aversa, 69; and Anthony M. Criscitelli, 61. The three men were the provincial ministers in charge of the Blair County-based Province of the Immaculate Conception of the Franciscan Friar, Third Order Regular, between 1986 and 2010. The Order oversees Bishop McCort Catholic High School.
Franciscan elders knew that Baker was a sexual predator as early as the early 1990s, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about the charges against Schinelli, D'Aversa and Criscitelli. But rather than report such sexual abuse to the police or remove Baker from positions which provided him with direct contact with children, Baker was assigned to Bishop McCort Catholic High School in 1992 to work as an athletic trainer, even though he had no qualifications to do so. As an athletic trainer, Baker molested more than 100 children between 1992 and 2010.
Grand Jury investigation into sexual abuse in Johnstown, Altoona area
The state Attorney General's office filed charges against the three Franciscan church elders based on recommendations from a 2-year-long state Grand Jury investigation. The Grand Jury produced a 147-page-long Grand Jury report detailing allegations against 50 priests and religious leaders in the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Based on the Grand Jury's 2-year-long investigation, the Attorney General's office claims that predator priests sexually abused children since at least the 1960s and until as recently as 2011.
Even so, no charges were filed against the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown since "the statute of limitation had run its course, abusers had died and victims were too traumatized to testify, prosecutors said," according to an Associated Press article published March 16, 2016 in The Indiana Gazette. However, the Grand Jury investigation report claims that the late Bishop James Hogan (he died in 2005) and retired Bishop Joseph Adamec in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese for decades helped to cover-up the sexual abuse of children by priests.
"This report contains the findings of the Grand Jury as they relate to the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. These findings are both staggering and sobering. Over many years hundreds of children have fallen victim to child predators wrapped in the authority and integrity of an honorable faith. As wolves disguised as the shepherds themselves - these men stole the innocence of children by sexually preying upon the most innocent and vulnerable members of our society and of the Catholic faith."
What rights do sexual abuse victims have decades later?
The Grand Jury investigation of the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown illustrates the importance of acting quickly and prosecuting adults for sexual abuse of minors. Under Pennsylvania state law, the statute of limitations (deadline) for taking legal action for sexual abuse of a minor (under 18 years old) expires once an adult reaches the age of 30 years old. For example, if a sexual abuse victim was 10 years old in 1996, this year would be final year that adult could take legal action in Pennsylvania before the statute of limitation expires on his or her 30th birthday.
However, some Pennsylvania lawmakers, including state Reps. Mark Rozzi and Tom Caltagirone, are actively pursuing efforts to change that law and remove any statute of limitations for sexual abuse of minors. "My heart breaks for the innocence lost by so many children," Caltagirone said during a recent news conference.
Regardless of when the abuse occurred, victims of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania have legal rights, according to attorney Jonathan B. Mack. That's why he strongly urges sexual abuse victims in Johnstown and elsewhere in Pennsylvania to contact the Law Offices of Marcus & Mack immediately. "Just because your abuse occurred decades ago doesn't mean you might not have a legal case," Mack said. "There are many legal avenues available to sexual abuse victims. As your attorneys, we will vigorously pursue all of them on your behalf. Religious leaders need to be held responsible for the psychological trauma caused by predatory priests. They knew the abuse was happening and they did nothing. The pain and suffering they caused has to have serious consequences."