Attorney General May Continue Mccort Abuse Investigation
By Kathy Mellott
November 2, 2013
An internal investigation by a Pittsburgh attorney and two other investigators into who knew what and when regarding alleged sexually molestation of students at Bishop McCort by a Franciscan friar is complete and a report made to the Cambria County District Attorney.
District Attorney?Kelly Callihan told The Tribune-Democrat Friday, a day after meeting with attorney Kathleen Gallagher, that she feels there is sufficient information to warrant involvement by the office of the state attorney general.
“She reached out to us and asked to meet with us,” Callihan said in an interview at the courthouse. “She orally related to us the results of their investigation. My plan is to see that the investigation continues.”
At issue, Callihan said, is who knew what was going on when Brother Stephen Baker was allegedly sexually molesting students at the high school.
Knowing of the incidents and looking the other way is a violation of the state’s mandated reporting statute, a law that has been in effect since
March 1991, Callihan said.
The county’s chief prosecutor said she is taking the matter to the state prosecutor’s office not only because it has manpower specializing in these issues, but because this case involves the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, crossing multiple counties.
“To me this is an open and active investigation,” she said.
“Baker’s death ended any probe into him, but there are reporting issues and residual matters that remain active.”
Baker, 62, when he was found dead at the monastery where he resided in Blair County, worked at the Johnstown Catholic school from 1992 to 2001.
He was a religion teacher and assisted in the athletic department, where much of the abuse allegedly occurred in the locker room and the whirlpool.
The alleged abuse surfaced publicly in January following news of a settlement involving 11 Baker victims when he worked in the Youngstown, Ohio, Diocese.
Since that time, a number of notices of pending civil lawsuits have been filed by attorneys on behalf of some of the alleged McCort victims.
State Attorney General spokesman Joe Peters, speaking of procedure and not the Baker-McCort case, said it is up to the state office to determine if it will accept a case for investigation and prosecution.
One reason for a district attorney seeking the state’s involvement is that it crosses county borders, he said.
“We don’t automatically have to take it. It’s very much a discretionary process,” he said.
While not the case in all instances, the attorney general has the power to have a grand jury look at it, he said.
“This gives us the jurisdiction to use the statewide investigative grand jury when it is multiple jurisdictions,” he said.
The advantage is that the grand jury has subpoena power and can get testimony under oath, Peters said.
The Baker case has similarities to the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal that has rocked Penn State, Callihan said.
“The focus in Sandusky was on mandated reporters and who and why or why not they followed the law in reporting the child abuse,” she said.
Callihan is seeking a written report from the Bishop McCort investigator, then she will go to the attorney general.
“In this situation, it’s about what occurred, who knew what and if they followed the law,” she said.
In a statement from Bishop McCort, spokesman Matthew Beynon said the board is willing to meet and work with all law enforcement officials as appropriate.
“While some have found it hard to understand the secrecy with which the board has had to go about its work, the facts with which we are dealing and the protection of the students requires no less,” Beynon said.
Tony DeGol, secretary of communications for the diocese, said the office has not been informed of any action involving the district attorney or the attorney general and is unable to comment.
q q q
In another case related to the diocese, Callihan said the attorney general has agreed to investigate allegations against The Rev. George Koharchik, 64, who was placed on leave in August 2012 after allegations surfaced that he sexually abused boys while he pastored at parishes in Cambria County.
Unclear is the status of allegations earlier this year regarding Monsignor Anthony B. Little, 58, who was removed from St. Patrick’s Parish in Newry, Blair County, after allegations surfaced that he molested a boy in the 1990s.
Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.