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Minneapolis priest charged in Pennsylvania abuse case

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 Updated: 8:05 p.m. | Posted: 2:04 p.m.

A Minneapolis priest is among three Fransciscan friars facing charges in Pennsylvania for allegedly allowing a sexual predator to have access to children. 

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said Father Anthony Criscitelli — a 61-year-old priest at St. Bridget parish in north Minneapolis — allowed Brother Stephen Baker to have access to children by letting him work at a shopping mall. 

Baker died by suicide three years ago. The three men charged are accused of allowing Baker, a known sexual predator, take on various jobs, including a position as a high school athletic trainer, that enabled him to molest more than 100 children.

Pennsylvania grand jury documents show Baker served two stints at St. Patrick's parish in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., in the mid and late 1970s. Baker was removed from ministry in 2000 after his order settled a claim that he sexually abused a minor while in Minnesota. 

Criscitelli and the other men charged — Giles Schinelli, 73, and Robert D'Aversa, 69 — were successively the provincial ministers of a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church in western Pennsylvania from 1986 to 2010. In that role, each assigned and supervised the order's members.

Each of the three men was charged with conspiracy and child endangerment. Prosecutors said the three have been given until Friday to surrender.

In at statement Tuesday, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said Criscitelli "was removed from ministry in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, pending the outcome of criminal charges that were filed against him this morning in Pennsylvania."  The statement also said the Archdiocese "has no record of any allegations of misconduct" against Criscitelli, who has worked in the archdiocese in 1982.

The Archdiocese says it will cooperate with law enforcement and find a temporary administrator to serve as pastor in Criscitelli's place.

Barbara Blaine with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests hopes the charges send a message to others in positions of authority.

  "For the most part, those who've concealed and covered up the crimes have gotten away with their concealing and covering up," she said. "And it's very rare that the enablers are held accountable."

Schinelli is now a pastoral administrator at the San Pedro Center, a Catholic retreat in Winter Park, Florida. D'Aversa is pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Community in Mount Dora, Florida.

A message left for Schinelli at the retreat was not returned. People answering the phones at the churches where D'Aversa and Criscitelli work said they were either traveling or not available for comment.

Brother Stephen Baker, the friar at the center of the abuse allegations, killed himself in 2013 — with two knives to the heart — after church officials in Youngstown, Ohio, announced they were settling lawsuits by 11 former students who said Baker abused them at schools in Ohio from 1986 to 1990.

More than 100 abuse claims were subsequently filed by former students of Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, where Baker worked from 1992 to 2000. Millions of dollars in damages have been paid out.

The order issued a statement saying it cooperated with the investigation and was "deeply saddened" by the announcement. It also said it "extends its most sincere apologies to the victims and to the communities who have been harmed."

Baker was appointed as a religion teacher and assistant football coach, but worked his way into a position as athletic trainer even though he had no formal training, the grand jury said.

Many victims indicated they were abused by Baker when he treated them for sports injuries or was stretching them.

Baker was removed from the assignment at McCort in 2000 after what D'Aversa believed was a credible accusation of child sex abuse, though the allegation is not detailed in the grand jury report.

Neither D'Aversa nor Criscitelli notified school or law enforcement officials why Baker was removed, the report said.

Baker was given a new position as vocations director for the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars, Province of the Immaculate Conception. Under that assignment, he led youth retreats in several states.

He was able to continue attending high school functions and had access to McCort facilities until 2010, the grand jury said.

Criscitelli further allowed Baker access to children by letting him work at a shopping mall, the report said.

In the prosecution announced Tuesday, the grand jury found that the local diocese in Pennsylvania did nothing criminal in its handling of abuse allegations against Baker, Kane said.