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Friars ask court to halt probation

D’Aversa, Criscitelli petition for early end to supervision

HOLLIDAYSBURG — The pair of Franciscan friars who rendered no contest pleas in May 2018 to charges in connection with a fellow friar and suspected child predator have asked Blair County Court for early termination of their five-year probationary sentences.

Attorneys representing Robert D’Aversa, 72, and Anthony Criscitelli, 65, recently submitted petitions to the court that are scheduled for review Monday before Senior Judge Jolene G. Kopriva.

In both cases, Pittsburgh attorneys Robert Ridge and James Kraus are asking Kopriva to consider that their clients have been subject to the rules and regulations of the Blair County Probation Office for more than three years. They reached that conclusion by including the two years the friars were under supervision before rendering no contest pleas.

Kopriva, who accepted the pleas on May 4, 2018, imposed five-year probationary sentences on each friar, along with an option for early termination.

“In the event the defendant serves one-half of his supervision without any problems, then the defendant can petition the court for early termination of their supervision,” her sentencing orders state.

When contacted Friday, the state Attorney General’s Office offered no insight on its position regarding the pending requests.

The AG’s office filed felony charges against the friars based on a 2016 grand jury investigation describing decades of alleged child sexual abuse and cover-up actions within the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese.

Within its findings, the grand jury accused D’Aversa and Criscitelli of failing to properly supervise fellow friar Stephen Baker, a suspected child predator within the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular, Hollidaysburg.

Between 1994 and 2010 when D’Aversa and Criscitelli held supervisory roles in the Third Order Regular, Baker was assigned or permitted to work at Johnstown’s Bishop McCort High School as a religion teacher, athletic trainer and vocations director.

After child-molestation allegations against Baker became public in 2013, Baker committed suicide by fatally stabbing himself in the heart at his residence in Hollidaysburg. A year later, the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, the Franciscan friars and Bishop McCort paid an $8 million settlement divided among 88 child abuse victims.

When D’Aversa and Criscitelli rendered no contest pleas, they were about a month away from going on trial on felony counts of criminal conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child and endangering the welfare of a child. The AG’s office described them as the first members of a religious order to be held criminally liable for covering up sexual abuse of children by another clergy member.

When sentencing the pair, Kopriva mentioned that the five years’ probationary sentence was the maximum she could impose on the first-degree misdemeanor. She also recognized the sentence included no jail time because both men were first-time offenders.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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