Judge revises travel regulations for friars

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Travel rules have been revised for a pair of Franciscan friars serving probationary sentences for a child endangerment offense linked to a fellow friar and suspected child predator.

In a ruling filed last week in the Blair County Prothonotary’s Office, Blair County Senior Judge Jolene G. Kopriva modified previous rulings to address travel-related issues reported by Robert D’Aversa, 72, and Anthony Criscitelli, 65, both of Hollidaysburg.

In responding to their complaints, Kopriva ruled that D’Aversa and Criscitelli should render travel-related requests to the county probation office at least five days prior to an event. The probation office will then have five days, she said, to approve or reject the proposed travel.

The judge’s order also allows leeway for requests involving “special circumstances,” which she indicated should be made known to the probation office.

Both friars were sentenced in May 2018 to serve five years’ probation after rendering no contest pleas to endangering the welfare of a child, a first-degree misdemeanor. Their pleas allowed them to avoid a jury trial and made them the first members of a religious order to be held criminally liable for covering up sexual abuse of children by another clergy member.

The pair were criminally charged by the state Attorney General’s Office, based on allegations in a grand jury report identifying friar Steven Baker as 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. A year later, the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, Franciscan friars and Bishop McCort paid an $8 million settlement, divided among 88 child abuse victims.

During a November court hearing, the friars and their attorneys reported difficulty with making travel plans that are subject to review by the county probation office.

After Daniel Dye, assistant chief deputy attorney general, presented no opposition to the request, Kopriva said she would speak with the probation office and come up with revisions.

But Dye did ask Kopriva at the November court hearing to consider having the friars watch a video or participate in an annual training session regarding the effects of sexual abuse on victims and the consequences that follow.

D’Aversa, at the court hearing, advised Kopriva that he and Criscitelli remain very aware of those effects, not only on Baker’s victims but also on their families, their monastery and themselves.

“We participate in the pain that Brother Stephen caused, and it’s decimated our order,” D’Aversa told Kopriva in November as he spoke of the dwindling number of monastery residents. “Brother Stephen was actually like an atomic bomb in destroying us.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.


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