Franciscans, Youngstown diocese settle with 28 victims
By Peter Smith
September 13, 2016
|Giles Schinelli, Robert D'Aversa, Anthony Criscitelli are awaiting trial on charges that they endangered children by assigning Brother Stephen Baker to work in contact with them, despite a history of abuse.|
Twenty-eight victims of the late Franciscan friar Stephen Baker, whose superiors face a criminal trial for allegedly failing to halt his years of sexual assaults on minors, reached a $900,000 settlement earlier this year with the Diocese of Youngstown and his religious order — settlements that some advocates now say were insultingly low.
The out-of-court settlements were reached in March after mediation between lawyers for all sides but only recently became public. In addition to the diocese, the settlement was reached with the Hollidaysburg, Pa.-based Immaculate Conception Province of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars.
News of the settlement comes as three former ministers provincial of the Franciscans are awaiting trial in Blair County on charges they endangered children by assigning Brother Baker to work in contact with them. Brother Baker committed suicide in 2013, soon after news became public of an earlier settlement with students he had molested while teaching at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, which is affiliated with the Diocese of Youngstown. A later settlement involved students at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown, affiliated with the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
The abuse involving the 28 victims in the recent settlement took place while Brother Baker taught at JFK from about 1985 to 1992, said their attorney, Mitchell Garabedian of Boston. Brother Baker taught at Bishop McCort from 1992 to 2000 and had other roles within the Altoona-Johnstown diocese in subsequent years.
Attorney Garabedian said that in a 2013 settlement involving another set of Baker’s victims, the Youngstown diocese paid an estimated $75,000 per person and that the current set of settlements averages less than half that per victim. He said one of the men refused to accept the payment because he found the amount “insulting.”
“It is unfortunate that the Diocese of Youngstown and the Franciscans weren’t respectful enough to my clients to at least offer the same amount of money they offered earlier victims in Ohio,” he said Tuesday. But given that the offenses happened years ago, victims could not sue under Ohio’s statute of limitations, so they were left to negotiate out of court.
A victim’s advocate, Robert Hoatson of the New Jersey-based group Road to Recovery, said while money is not the object of such settlements, a higher amount would have offered “validation” to survivors. Mr. Hoatson participated in a sidewalk news conference outside the diocese’s offices Tuesday morning to protest the settlement amount.
But Monsignor John Zuraw, chancellor of the Youngstown diocese, said Tuesday he was surprised by the protest.
He said the settlement was agreed to after arbitration and signed by all 28 of the victims. Msgr. Zuraw also said the diocese also agreed to pay for counseling for any of the victims, in addition to the settlement payment.
“Our approach is pastoral,” he said. “We do want the healing to occur. We want the individuals to move beyond the horrific circumstances that occurred in their life.”
In 2014, the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, the Franciscans and Bishop McCort Catholic High School settled with 88 victims for $8 million over Brother Baker’s actions.
Mr. Garabedian said he also has four pending claims from victims in Pennsylvania and Ohio.