Pennsylvania Catholics face hearing in child sex abuse case

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[April 14, 2016]  By David DeKok
 HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - Pennsylvania prosecutors will lay out their case on Thursday against three former leaders of a Roman Catholic order accused of endangering hundreds of boys by putting them in contact with a priest they knew to be a sexual predator.

The preliminary hearing for Giles Schinelli, 73, Robert D'Aversa, 69, and Anthony Criscitelli, 61, on felony charges of endangering the welfare of children and conspiracy is expected to last much of the day at the Blair County Courthouse in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.

Each is a former leader of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars, Province of the Immaculate Conception based in Hollidaysburg. Prosecutors accuse them of enabling the sexual predations of Brother Steven Baker, a member of their order who committed suicide in 2013.

"They acted to protect the institutions they led rather than the children and family they served," according to the grand jury presentment which recommended charges. "Moreover, they could have prevented additional victims."

The grand jury heard evidence that Baker molested over 100 boys at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown, where he was an athletic trainer, after telling the boys they needed massages for sports injuries.

Each defendant was accused of putting Baker in jobs where he had contact with boys, despite knowing he was a pedophile, and of failing to report him to police.

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

No prosecutions of individuals named in that report were possible, Kane said, either because they had died or the statute of limitations had expired.

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On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill to eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual crimes against children. It would also retroactively extend from age 30 to age 50 the cutoff for child sex victims to file civil suits, and allow governmental entities to be sued in cases of gross negligence.

The bill still requires approval by the Pennsylvania Senate. Governor Tom Wolf will sign the bill if it reaches his desk, a spokesman said.

"We are going to go to the hearing and hear what the (prosecution) has to say," said Robert Ridge, lawyer for D'Aversa. Lawyers for the other two could not be reached for comment.

(Reporting by David DeKok; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Leslie Adler)

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