At Least 35 Alleged Abuse Victims Have Come Forward
January 19, 2013
At least 35 former students at both Warren John F. Kennedy High School and Bishop McCort High School in Johnsontown, Pa. have now come forward to allege a Catholic Franciscan friar, Brother Stephen P. Baker, used his position as athletic trainer in both schools to sexually molest them in the in the 1980s and 1990s.
And on Friday, Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who negotiated high five-figure settlements for 11 former JFK students who were allegedly molested, called into question where Baker was during a year-long stretch in 2011 where Baker had no official assignment from the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
D.C. Nokes Jr., a Johnstown attorney appointed as the spokesperson by the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment. The diocese said on Thursday in a statement they contacted civil authorities in November 2011 after learning of allegations. The statement also condemned abuse of any kind.
Garabedian said three new former JFK students, one former St. Mary’s student and four students from Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown contacted him about being sexually abused.
On Thursday, five McCort High School students alleged abuse in phone interviews and some said they had contacted Garabedian.
On Friday Johnstown attorney Michael Parrish said “at least 10” former Bishop McCort students have alleged they were sexually abused by Baker.
“We are in the very early stages of investigating,” Parrish said. “If the claims are ultimately found valid, we will find out who is responsible, what happened and when.”
There are now 18 alleged abuse victims from JFK. Two former St. Mary’s students also claimed Baker abused them, including one of the original 11 that settled with the diocese, JFK and the T.O.R. Franciscan Order. More than 15 have alleged abuse while at Bishop McCort.
The five from Bishop McCort and two from Warren JFK said they believe dozens, possibly hundreds, of other students were abused by Baker.
“Again, the question remains, why did the school’s supervisors fail to do their job and supervise,” Garabedian said.
Garabedian also said he obtained a record of Baker’s assignments from his time in the Youngstown and Altoona-Johnstown dioceses. Baker worked at JFK High School from 1986-1992. He was then assigned to McCort High School from 1993-2000.
After McCort, Garabedian said Baker was assigned from 2001-2003 at St. Bernadine’s Monestary in Hollidaysburg, Pa., where Baker is currently staying under strict supervision, according to his superiors.
He was sent to St. Joseph’s Friary in Hollidaysburg from 2003-2010.
Garabedian claims there is no record for Garabedian’s assignment for 2011. He was sent back to St. Bernadine’s in 2012.
“Where was he?” Garabedian asked. “Was he being treated for something. A lot of times there will be blanks for various issues.”
Former students of JFK and McCort told similar stories of abuse. They said Baker used his position as athletic trainer, baseball coach and religion teacher to gain students’ trust by offering car rides, dinners and outings to horse-race tracks and on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
In the training room, those interviewed said Baker would fondle their genitals with therapeutic oils and digitally penetrate them.
Garabedian negotiated 11 settlements with 10 former JFK students and one former St. Mary’s student through arbitration, keeping the case out of civil court. Statute of limitations have expired in 10 of those cases in Ohio but any alleged victim from Bishop McCort could bring charges until they are 50 years old.
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.