Baker Probe Fallout?
By Kathy Mellott
December 20, 2013
With a potential criminal investigation waiting in the wings, Bishop McCort High School appears to be cleaning house of those who may have or should have known that Brother Stephen Baker was sexually abusing students for years.
The Tribune-Democrat has learned from multiple unnamed sources that longtime math teacher Carol Grove was dismissed from her post at the school earlier this month, and word is that others may be dismissed.
“It sounds like guilt by association,” said one former Bishop McCort student. “I think the McCort graduates and others need to know what is going on.”
Grove, who is listed on the school’s website as a math teacher, was also Key Club moderator and overseer of Mu Alpha Theta, a school-based math club.
She could not be reached for comment Friday.
Matthew Beynon, spokesman for the school, would not confirm Grove’s departure.
“Bishop McCort does not comment on individual employment matters,” he said in an email.
Sources said Grove also worked in the athletic department and was viewed years ago as a close friend of Baker’s.
Baker, 62 at the time of his death in late January, worked at Bishop McCort from 1992 until about 2001. However, he was reported to have been seen at the school on multiple occasions after he was no longer employed there as a religion teacher and with the athletic department.
He worked at the school while it was operated under the control of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and, according to one source, was at the school for a visit as late as 2008.
It was in 2008 that the school became independent of the diocese and since that time has been controlled by a board of directors comprised primarily of leaders in business and industry from the Johnstown and Cambria County area.
Baker, a Franciscan friar living at a monastery outside Hollidaysburg, was found dead of what the Blair County coroner ruled a self-inflicted stab wound to the heart.
A former Bishop McCort employee told The Tribune-Democrat recently that in about 2005, she received an email from a high-ranking official with the school that Baker was not to be allowed on Bishop McCort property.
Word of Baker’s abuse spread with the announcement that the Catholic diocese in Youngstown, Ohio, reached an out-of-court settlement with 11 male students he molested in the years before coming to Bishop McCort.
About six weeks after news surfaced regarding Baker and his abuse of students, longtime employee and Principal Kenneth Salem was placed on leave. Salem, of Johnstown, was involved in different capacities with the school’s athletic department for much of the two decades he was employed there.
The action against Salem prompted an outcry from many alumni, but no steps were taken by the board to bring him back and he ended his relationship with the school in June.
D.A. Gardill has served as interim principal and, as of Friday, a permanent replacement for Salem had not been named.
Indications from Beynon are that the board is conducting a far-reaching search for a replacement and someone may be named soon.
“The board of trustees continues to review and evaluate the great pool of applicants that have shown interest in guiding the next generation of McCort leaders,” he said.
He termed Bishop?McCort’s “national reputation as a great institution of Catholic education” as drawing a large number of qualified applicants, not just from Johnstown, but from around the country.
The board will begin interviewing candidates after the new year, Beynon said.
Meanwhile, Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan said she has already taken a large amount of information regarding the Baker allegations to the office of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
She is asking the state’s top prosecutor to determine who among current and former staff at the school as well as those in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown knew of Baker’s abuse and remained silent.
Mandatory reporting laws for those in supervisory positions have been in place since the early 1990s, she said.
“It’s compiled and I’ve delivered it to them,” Callihan said of the information she forwarded to the state officials. “All of the paperwork was delivered last week.”
She included a summary of the information made available to her by Pittsburgh attorney Kathleen Gallagher, who along with two former state police troopers conducted an internal investigation on behalf of the Bishop McCort board.
Gallagher briefed Callihan on the results of the inquiry, and while she stopped short of providing a written synopsis, agreed to make the two investigators available to the state attorney general, Callihan said.
“I produced everything that I had, summarizing my dealing with the case over the course of nearly a year,” she said.
Callihan was unable to predict how long a review would take and when she would learn if the state office will take the case.
The big unknown, she said, is how the state’s statute of limitations will hinder any criminal prosecution.