Youngstown Diocese Responds to Allegations Made by Road to Recovery
By Linda M. Linonis
March 9, 2016
Monsignor John A. Zuraw, chancellor of the Diocese of Youngstown, responded Tuesday to issues raised by Road to Recovery, a New Jersey-based support group for victims of sexual abuse by priests and other clergy.
Robert Hoatson, support-group president, led a news conference Sunday near diocesan offices that included Barbara Aponte, mother of Luke Bradesky, a student from 1990-94 at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren and a victim of the late Stephen Baker, who abused a group of JFK students.
The Sunday news event was prompted by the release of findings by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane. That investigation of Altoona-Johnstown Diocese revealed former bishops covered up or didn’t respond to allegations of abuse by more than 50 priests from 1966 to 2011. Baker was implicated in some cases.
Baker was in the religious order of the Third Order Regular Franciscans, the monsignor explained. “Baker was not a diocesan priest under the bishop. He was a religious brother under a local religious superior,” he said. When the religious order’s ranks dwindled, members were reassigned.
“The diocese had no knowledge of Baker’s misbehavior until it learned of the alleged abuse,” Monsignor Zuraw said. In January 2013, letters from the bishop were sent to all students who attended JFK when Baker was a teacher, coach and trainer there seeking information on abuse. And in November 2013, questionnaires went to JFK teachers and staff asking questions on Baker’s behavior and how it might have put youth in danger. The response was that nothing was observed.
Eleven of Baker’s victims have received a settlement from the Youngstown diocese; there are 28 other victims with cases pending.
As well as the Youngstown diocese’s connection to Baker, Monsignor Zuraw focused on the comparison of Diocese of Youngstown and the Pennsylvania diocese, the response by Bishop George V. Murry of the Youngstown diocese, and legal settlements and counseling.
Hoatson said he wanted state officials to raid the diocese offices to find the kind of files discovered in Altoona. Monsignor Zuraw responded each diocese has its own system of record-keeping. “We have no secret archives. There are no secret files on good and bad priests,” he said.
Monsignor Zuraw said Bishop Murry is available to meet with victims and their families.
In the Aponte situation, the chancellor said an email was sent March 18, 2014, from the diocese’s local legal counsel, Bob Fulton of Manchester, Newman and Bennett law firm, to Boston attorney Michael Garabedian, who represents 27 of 28 victims of Baker’s including Aponte, who is making the claim for her deceased son.
The email from Fulton informed Garabedian and Aponte that the bishop was willing to meet with the Aponte family but it would be about pastoral concerns and not legal issues.
The chancellor said it was not appropriate for the bishop to discuss legal issues and ongoing litigation.
“Pastoral matters pertain to the spiritual,” Monsignor Zuraw said.
In response to a comment by Hoatson about the diocese’s action on settling claims, Monsignor Zuraw said two weeks ago an offer of a financial settlement for the victims represented by Garabedian was made. The diocese and its legal counsel has not yet received a response.
“Whether the financial settlement is accepted or not, the diocese also offers counseling for the victims,” the chancellor said, adding it would not be a diocesan counselor but one of the victim’s choice.
To report abuse or seek victim assistance, contact Thomas D. Sauline, diocesan administrator of child protection, 330-744-8451.