Attorney: Dozens more in Pa., Ohio claim abuse by friar
By John Seewer
Brother Stephen Baker died last month shortly after it was revealed he had paid financial settlements to 11 men who claimed he had abused them when they were schoolboys.
TOLEDO, Ohio — About 50 more people have come forward to say they were sexually abused at Catholic schools in Pennsylvania and Ohio by a Franciscan brother who killed himself in January, said an attorney who settled 11 alleged abuse cases against the friar.
Brother Stephen Baker, 62, stabbed himself in the heart at a western Pennsylvania monastery on Jan. 26, a little over a week after the disclosure of financial settlements in alleged abuse cases in Warren, Ohio. A coroner told the Altoona Mirror newspaper that Baker left a short note apologizing for his actions.
The new accusers have alleged in recent weeks that they were abused between 1982 and 2007, attorney Mitchell Garabedian said Sunday. Some said Baker abused them even after he left teaching in 2000 when he would attend school events in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Garabedian said.
The latest allegations come from people in 12 states who went to school in Warren or were either middle school or high school students in Johnstown, where Baker taught and coached, Garabedian said.
The Boston attorney said he’s also heard from four people who say they were abused while Baker was at a high school in Orchard Lake, Michigan.
Baker was named in legal settlements in January involving 11 men who alleged he had sexually abused them at a Catholic high school in northeast Ohio three decades ago. The undisclosed financial settlements involved his contact with students at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren from 1986 to 1990.
Baker taught and coached at John F. Kennedy High School in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was at Bishop McCort in Johnstown from 1992 to 2000. He taught in Michigan in the mid-1980s.
Roman Catholic Bishop George Murry of Youngstown said this month that he sent letters asking for information from about 1,200 adults who attended Kennedy High School while Baker taught and coached there.
The Youngstown diocese has said it was unaware of the allegations until nearly 20 years after the alleged abuse.
Messages seeking comment were left with the Youngstown diocese and the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese on Sunday.
Friar accused of abuse in two states kills himself, police say
By Ron Todt, The Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA — A Franciscan friar accused of sexually abusing students at Catholic high schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania killed himself at a western Pennsylvania monastery, police said Saturday.
Brother Stephen Baker, 62, was found dead of self-inflicted wounds at the St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg on Saturday morning, Blair Township Police Chief Roger White told The Associated Press. He declined to specify the type of wounds or say whether a note was found.
Baker was named in legal settlements last week involving 11 men who alleged that he sexually abused them at a Catholic high school in northeast Ohio three decades ago. The undisclosed financial settlements announced Jan. 16 involved his contact with students at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio from 1986 to 1990.
The Youngstown diocese previously said it was unaware of the allegations until nearly 20 years after the alleged abuse.
“Let us continue to pray for all victims of abuse, for Brother Baker’s family and the repose of his soul,” Youngstown Bishop George Murray said in a statement Saturday.
After the settlements were announced, the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese in central Pennsylvania said it received complaints in 2011 of possible abuse by Baker at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh.
Bishop McCort High School hired an attorney to investigate after several former students alleged they were molested by Baker in the 1990s. Attorney Susan Williams said three former students had talked to her in detail about the alleged abuse.
Baker taught and coached at John F. Kennedy High School in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and was at Bishop McCort from 1992-2000.
Bishop Mark Bartchak of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese said in a statement that he was saddened by the news of Baker’s death, but declined further comment citing pending legal action involving the diocese.
A message left for Father Patrick Quinn, the head of Baker’s order, the Third Order Regular Franciscans, was not immediately returned.
Judy Jones, assistant Midwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the organization still hopes people who know about other abuse allegations against Baker will continue to come forward.
“We feel sad for Br. Baker’s family but even sadder for the dozens of boys who Baker assaulted,” she said in a statement.
Warren JFK settles with 11 men over sex abuse
Published: By Ed Runyan Thu, January 17, 2013 @ 12:09 a.m.
Two men describe sex abuse at hands of former Warren JFK trainer
Eleven men settled out of court with Warren John F. Kennedy High School for “upper five figures” each as a result of the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of a brother who taught, coached baseball and served as athletic trainer at the school.
Eleven men settled out of court with Warren John F. Kennedy High School for “upper five figures” each as a result of sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of a man who taught, coached baseball and served as athletic trainer at the school, two of the victims and their attorney said Wednesday.
Franciscan Brother Stephen P. Baker, now living in a monastery near Altoona, Pa., fondled teenagers age 14 to 18 from 1986 to 1990 in the school training room, elsewhere in the school and on trips outside of Warren, two of the victims said.
Brother Baker worked at the school from 1986 to 1991 but was never a member of the clergy, the Diocese of Youngstown said in a written statement. He is a member of the Franciscan Third Order Regular.
Two of the victims, now in their early 40s, said at a news conference at the Holiday Inn in Newton Falls that fondling occurred most frequently during massages in a small, closed training room at the school containing a whirlpool and massage table. Brother Baker would find excuses to massage athletes and would sometimes massage their genitals, the men said.
The men asked that their names and faces not be published. One of them said it was also common for the 400-pound Brother Baker to “grab you by your buttocks and bring you in” in front of lots of people in a classroom.
The boys “joked” about Brother Baker’s massages but never reported them to school officials, they said.
“It was always a running joke — ‘Don’t get a hang nail or you’ll have to drop your pants.’ Certainly a lot of jokes went around at that time,” one of the men said.
One of the victims described the training room, which had a piece of cardboard over the window. Brother Baker would “either put you in the whirlpool and watch you take a whirlpool or massage different areas, private areas, maybe areas unrelated to your injury. Everything seemed to originate from the groin.”
The school, the diocese and the Franciscan TOR each paid the settlement, said Atty. Mitchell Garabedian of Boston, who negotiated it.
The Diocese of Youngstown first became aware of the allegations in 2009 from the men and their attorney, the diocese said. “Neither the diocese nor John F. Kennedy High School had any knowledge of the allegations of abuse while Brother Baker served at the school,” its statement said.
Brother Baker “did not admit the allegations but is living under strict supervision of the TOR order. He is not teaching or involved in any public ministry,” according to the statement.
Brian Sinchak, school president, referred all questions to the diocese.
Patrick Quinn, ministry provincial for the TOR, acknowledged the settlement with the 11 men in a prepared statement.
“Brother Baker has been and continues to be removed from all public ministry and is living under supervision in which he has no contact with minors,” the statement said.
The group that Brother Baker belongs to, called the Immaculate Conception Province, is headquartered in Hollidaysburg, Pa., and covers members in Florida, West Virginia, Minnesota and one member in Steubenville.
“The province deeply regrets the suffering endured by these 11 individuals and prays for the continued healing of all victims of sexual abuse,” Quinn said in the statement.
A call to St. Bernadine Monastery in Newry, Pa., where Brother Baker lives, was not returned. Brother Baker is now about 62 years old.
The victims attended the news conference with Robert Hoatson, who founded the nonprofit organization Road to Recovery in 2003 in West Orange, N.J., to assist victims of sexual abuse by clergy after the issue took center stage in 2002.
One of the men said he told his parents about the assaults at the point where Garabedian was first contacted in 2009, but the other man said he told his parents while it was going on.
“Even our parents, at least my parents, joked about it back then. … The culture at the time was ‘It probably didn’t happen to the extent you’re saying it happens or do you think it’s really that bad,’ so we did talk about it with our parents.”
The other man added, “If we would have said exactly what happened instead of joking” it would have been taken more seriously.
Garabedian, who was present at the news conference by speakerphone, said he has concerns about Brother Baker committing acts in the future. The attorney said there ought to be an independent investigation of Baker’s activities, and the supervisors of Baker.
The statute of limitations that governs the filing of criminal charges has expired for anything happening from 1986 to 1990 except for one boy who was in middle school when he was assaulted, Garabedian said.
“That person is determining whether to proceed criminally against Brother Baker now as we speak,” Garabedian said.
One victim said that in the late 1980s, before priest sex allegations became national news, a religious brother’s activities were unquestioned.
Former JFK Coach Abused Teens as Many as 25 Times
A former Warren John F. Kennedy High School religion teacher, sports trainer and baseball coach used his authority positions to tell at least a dozen students they needed massages to avoid injury, then sexually molested them, one as many as 25 times, during the late 1980s.
Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian said Wednesday he negotiated settlements for 11 men, 10 of whom attended JFK High from 1986-1990 that claimed Brother Stephen P. Baker, a baseball coach, religion teacher and athletic trainer during his tenure at JFK, molested them. The other victim was attending St. Mary’s school at the time and switched schools after he was abused.
Garabedian said some of the men, who were between 14-18 when they were molested, are now all between 36 and 40 years old and live in places ranging from Massachusetts to Nevada. Garabedian said some went on to become successful businessmen.
Each received a “high five-figure” settlement, Garabedian said.
Garabedian said a 12th man has since contacted him claiming he was also abused by Baker.
Garabedian, who said he handled cases of sexual abuse in the clergy dating back to 1995, negotiated settlements with JFK High School, the Youngstown Diocese and with T.O.R. Franciscan religious order based in Pennsylvania during four days of mediation in June and August.
Baker, reached at about 9:45 a.m. Wednesday in his room at St. Bernadine’s monastery in Newry, Pa., about seven miles south of Altoona, said he was shocked when alerted of the accusations in a brief phone interview with the newsroom.
“I’m flabbergasted,” Baker said. “I’ll have to ask my superiors if I can say anything.”
Baker then hung up and failed to return the call. The major superior of the T.O.R. Franciscan, Fr. Patrick Quinn, on Wednesday said Baker is a friar and was removed from all public ministry. Quinn said Baker has been living under strict supervision in which he has no contact with minors. Quinn said his position is similar to a bishop overseeing priests.
“Our province responded to allegations against Brother Baker with compassion and outreach,” Quinn said. “We participated in a successful mediation with 11 individuals, the diocese of Youngstown, and John F. Kennedy High School, in which all 11 claims were resolved amicably….Our policy is to reach out with compassion and care to any who come forward. The province deeply regrets the suffering endured by these 11 individuals and prays for the continued healing of all victims of child sexual abuse.”
The Diocese of Youngstown said on Wednesday they were alerted to the allegations in 2009. They said Baker taught at JFK from 1986 to 1991 and was never a member of the clergy but was a member of the T.O.R. Franciscan Brothers. The diocese in a statement said no one at JFK or the diocese was ever aware of the allegations while Baker served at the school.
The diocese said they had no legal liability but participated in settlement negotiations. The T.O.R. Franciscan Brothers is the organization that oversees friars like Baker, a different designation than priest.
Two victims said they felt embarrassment and confusion when Baker sexually abused them during their time at JFK. The victims, aided by the New Jersey-based Road to Recover Center, wanted to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the situation.
They said they were molested in different places, including a whirlpool. One victim said he still attended Catholic mass.
“I hope others come forward,” one victim said. “I hope it helps kids today come forward.”
Garabedian, who said he handled cases of sexual abuse in the clergy dating back to 1995, negotiated settlements with JFK High School, the Youngstown Diocese and with TOR Franciscan religious order based in Pennsylvania during four days of mediation in June and August.
The settlements, which Garabedian declined to give details about, were finalized in October. A redacted copy of the settlement that omitted the names of the victims and the total amount of money agreed to be given to the victims, and said the money was agreed upon because of “personal, physical and psychological injuries” sustained by victims.
JFK, T.O.R. Franciscan and the Youngstown Diocese also agreed to pay attorney fees and expenses.
The agreements, obtained by the station, said the payments will be made “solely upon pastoral concern” and was not an admission of any wrongdoing by JFK, T.O.R. Franciscan and the diocese, which was “expressly denied,” according to the settlement.
Garabedian called for local prosecutors to conduct an investigation into criminal charges against Baker. He said Baker was trusted by parents and highly respected at JFK. Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins said he was looking into the situation.
The statute of limitation in Ohio for rape cases is 20 years. In 2011, state Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard, co-sponsored a bill that died in the senate that would have eliminated the statute of limitations on rape cases.
Garabedian said criminal charges are still available to prosecutors for the St. Mary’s student because the statute of limitations has not yet expired. The statute of limitations has expired in the 10 other cases.
The attorney said he was unsure if school officials were aware of the abuse.
“How could they not know?” Garabedian said. “Didn’t someone notice something was off?”
Garabedian said Baker told the boys they needed massages. In some cases he would use therapeutic oil to fondle the boys and digitally penetrated them.
“The boys were afraid to say anything,” Garabedian said. “They were afraid to get kicked off the team. He was highly respected.”
Garabedian said he believes there could be more victims.
“It’s shocking this abuse could have taken place over such a long period,” Garabedian said. “There’s no telling how many people he abused.”
It’s the third time since 2010 an authority figure in the Youngstown Diocese has been accused of sexually assaulting a minor.
In October 2011, Bishop George Murry said the Rev. John Warner, who worked in various Mahoning Valley churches during his 40-year career, entered a treatment facility after they discovered “credible” allegations that he sexually abused an adolescent altar boy at least 30 years ago.
Warner was accused of sexually assaulting a former altar boy who was about 13 years old at Youngstown’s St. Edward Parish, where Warner served from 1976-1982.
Warner, whose career included a three-year stint at St. Mary Parish in Warren and St. Vincent dePaul Parish in Vienna, was stripped of his ability perform any function of a priest, including celebration of the sacraments, wearing clerical attire or presenting himself as a priest in good standing.
Warner is the second diocesan priest in the last two years to be removed from the priesthood.
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI removed the Rev. Thomas Crum from the priesthood for having sexual contact with a minor.
Crum, who had served more than 30 years with the diocese, admitted to sexually abusing a high school student in 1975-76. He was removed from active ministry in 2009 after confirming allegations that he had sexually abused a minor.
“The Diocese of Youngstown continues to be committed to protecting children and helping to heal victims of abuse,” Youngstown Bishop George Murry said in a statement. “I am deeply sorry for the pain suffered by survivors of abuse, because nothing is more important than protecting our children.”