Former Bishop Mccort Students Allege Sexual Abuse
January 18, 2013
Five former students at a Johnstown, Pa. Catholic school said in phone interviews on Thursday that Franciscan friar Stephen P. Baker molested them while they were athletes being treated for injuries during their time at the school during the mid-to-late 1990s.
The former students from Bishop McCort High School, who will not be identified because they are alleged victims of sexual abuse, played sports at the school from 1993 through 1999 and said Baker would touch their genitals and often digitally penetrated them while under the guise of treating sports injuries.
The accounts mirrored two of the 11 former students from Warren John F. Kennedy High School in Warren who received high-five figure settlements with the Youngstown Diocese, the T.O.R. Franciscan Order in Pennsylvania and JFK for being allegedly abused by Baker during what was supposed to be treatment for minor sports injuries.
Baker was the sports trainer and religion teacher at Bishop McCort during the 1990s. He also coached the junior varsity baseball team and other youth traveling baseball teams unaffiliated with the school, according to interviews.
The five said Baker was a highly-respected member of the school and community.
Baker held similar positions at Warren JFK when he coached baseball, taught religion and served as the athletic trainer.
“It was just sad we joked about it at the time,” said Victim No. 1. “It was maybe more serious than we thought at the time. It just makes me want to puke in my mouth. I’m glad they got him.”
The alleged victims said Baker often provided transportation to and from sporting events, took students to horse-racing tracks and out to dinner and once took several students on a trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
They also said he told students to give him shoulder massages and rub his feet, sometimes during his religion class.
Bishop McCort Principal Kenneth Salem said the school was aware of accusations against Baker.
“We are very much aware of the situation,” Salem said.
A statement released by the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown said Bishop Mark Bartchak became aware of allegations of misconduct in November 2011 and contacted “civil authorities.” The statement said Bartchak “continues to pray for all those that have been harmed and remains committed to providing appropriate assistance to victims.”
“The abuse of minors at any time and place is wrong and can never be excused,” Bartchak said in a statement on Thursday.
Five more former JFK students contacted Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian on Thursday and alleged abuse by Baker on top of the 11 that received settlements and another that came forward during negotiations, bringing the JFK total to 17.
A redacted copy of the settlement omitted the names of the victims and the total amount of money agreed to be given to the victims, and said the money was agreed upon because of "personal, physical and psychological injuries" sustained by victims.
JFK, T.O.R. Franciscan and the Youngstown Catholic Diocese also agreed to pay attorney fees and expenses.
The agreements, obtained by the station, said the payments will be made "solely upon pastoral concern" and was not an admission of any wrongdoing by JFK, T.O.R. Franciscan and the diocese, which was "expressly denied," according to the settlement.
Garabedian called for local prosecutors to conduct an investigation into criminal charges against Baker. He said Baker was trusted by parents and highly respected at JFK.
The statute of limitations has expired in 10 of the cases at JFK. Garabedian said it has not yet been determined if the six other cases fell within the statute of limitation range.
But Pennsylvania law would allow for criminal prosecution if authorities decide to investigate. Pennsylvania law sets the statute of limitations at 32 years after the alleged victim turns 18 years old, essentially giving the victim until they are 50 years old to pursue prosecution.
The five alleged victims have contacted attorney Michael Parrish in the Johnstown area, according to Fox affiliate WJAC-TV in Johnstown. Some also said they would consider assisting a criminal investigation while others worried they would be publicly identified in the process.
All five, independently interviewed, gave similar accounts. Baker would summon them to his trainer’s room, sometimes during the school day, issuing a pass to a classroom for the student. He would have them strip naked and massage their bodies, including genitals.
“It was like sodomy,” Victim No. 2 said. “He had some type of lotion he would use to make his hands move in areas they shouldn’t have been.”
They also said they would have them strip naked before getting into a whirlpool for treatment. The former students also said he would sometimes stop and watch as many as 20 football players showering later practices or games.
All five said they never told parents or school officials because it was so ingrained in the life of an athlete at the time. No one questioned his methods, some because they never had an athletic trainer before.
“It was what we expected,” Victim No. 3 said. “He was put in this position as trainer and you did what you were told.”
The alleged victims all became successful in their fields, and said they had families of their own. One became a sports coach that works with kids.
Some alleged victims said Baker groped them during his religion class. One victim recalled walking up to his desk during a test to ask a question. He said Baker reached around him, messaged his buttocks, then slapped it after answering the question.
Some students interviewed recalled dinners, a trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and other extra-curricular activities Baker organized. During the trip to the Hall of Fame, he asked one alleged victim to give him a neck massage during the drive.
“We always thought it was odd,” Victim No. 2 said. “Reflecting back, it felt like we were very violated and a cheap use for his satisfaction.”
Most of those interviewed said they never realized his requests to strip naked for stretching exercises and dips in the whirlpool were odd until later in life when athletes from other schools would be shocked at their accounts.
One victim said he was sent to an outside rehabilitation facility for an injury. When he told doctors there he thought he didn’t need swimming trunks to go in the whirlpool, they were struck by such an odd statement.
“He was trusted,” Victim No. 4 said. “He was subtle.”
The men interviewed also said it was much easier to deal with at the time because they had a strong group of friends. They said it helped they all went through similar circumstances and were able to joke about going into Baker’s training room.
“Back then were had strong core of friends,” Victim No. 5 said. “It didn’t matter what sport you played. We all ran in the same group and experienced the same thing. I think having a stronger core, it’s tough to laugh something like that off, but we stuck together through it.”