Open Files on Baker
By David Hurst
November 21, 2013
An attorney representing 34 alleged victims of the late Brother Stephen Baker called on the local Roman Catholic diocese to “set the truth free” by releasing the former athletic trainer’s personnel files.
Boston-based attorney Mitchell Garabedian called on the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese to release “secret files” on Baker, who served as a religion teacher, sports trainer and baseball coach at McCort from 1992 to 2000 – a period when it’s alleged Baker sexually assaulted as many as 80 students.
“It’s time for the diocese to come clean,” Garabedian added, saying years of silence at McCort has wrecked countless lives. “Let’s get the truth out, so we can know who knew about this. And these victims can heal.”
Garabedian and Robert Hoatson, a former priest and co-founder of the nonprofit Road to Recovery, a New Jersey charity formed to guide sex abuse victims on a path toward healing, made the statement at a press conference from inside a suite at the downtown Johnstown Holiday Inn on Wednesday.
Diocese spokesman Tony DeGol said he was unaware of their request – and press conference – until a reporter called for comment.
He said he did not know if the diocese ever compiled a personnel file on Baker.
“I don’t know what we have and what we don’t,” DeGol said. “But I?know personnel records are private, and it’s not our policy to release those type of records.”
“I?don’t know of any organization that would release something like that,” he said, “regardless of whether they are a current or former employee.”
Baker died in January at 62, weeks after allegations against him surfaced locally. A coroner ruled his death a suicide.
The diocese administered and controlled Bishop McCort until 2008, when it turned those duties over to a local board of directors. It now operates as an independent educational nonprofit, its website shows.
Bishop McCort’s outside spokesman, Matt Beynon, did not return a message for comment Wednesday.
The press conference came at a time attorneys representing dozens of alleged victims, including 34 represented by Garabedian, have filed notices in court against the diocese and McCort – and in certain cases, the school board and other defendants.
In recent weeks, a Pittsburgh-based Bishop McCort attorney has responded by asking Cambria County court to force abuse victims’ legal counsel to file formal complaints detailing allegations against the school.
Cambria County investigators, meanwhile, have forwarded results of their criminal investigation to the state Attorney General’s Office for review, District Attorney Kelly Callihan said, saying in November that “reporting issues” were flagged as suspicious. If people knew about specific incidents occurring at the school and failed to report them, it’s a violation of a 1991 reporting statute, she said at the time.
Garabedian said there has been some discussion “although nothing substantiative” about the possibility of settling some cases outside court.
“Whatever happens, this will not be brushed under the rug,” he said. “We won’t be signing gag orders.”