Murry Apologizes for Friar Abuse Allegations
January 24, 2013
Youngstown Diocese Bishop George Murry apologized Thursday to alleged victims of sexual abuse by a Catholic Franciscan friar who abused teenage boys during his tenures at Warren’s John F. Kennedy High School and at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, Pa.
It was the first time Murry directly addressed questions about the abuse accusations that came to light last week when Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian announced 10 former JFK students and a former St. Mary’s students reached high-five figure settlements with the diocese, JFK and the T.O.R. Franciscan Order.
Murry, who called the Baker case “notorious,” said the Youngstown Diocese paid 30 percent of the settlement and the T.O.R. Franciscans paid the other 70 percent.
Murry also acknowledged the timing of their response — which came more than a week after the allegations were made public, more than three months since the settlement was finalized and more than two years since the diocese was made aware of the accusations— was something the diocese may need review to see if it could have handled the situation better.
“Information I was getting from our attorneys was that the discussions were very sensitive and there was a sense they wanted this to be concluded before they went forward with any sort of public announcement,” Murry said. “The timing of that is something we can look at and figure out what the best way to handle that.”
Murry also said he believed at the time of the settlement the T.O.R. Franciscan Superior, Fr. Patrick Quinn, planned to send apology letters to JFK victims and notification letters to former students who attended the school between 1986-1992, when Baker taught religion, coached baseball and was the school’s athletic trainer, asking for other victims to come forward.
Murry said the letters were never sent, so he and JFK president Brian Sinchak will send the letters.
The bishop said the diocese went through their procedure when sex abuse cases are brought forward. He said they hire a private investigation company who employs former FBI agents to determine if the claims are credible.
The investigator then presents the findings to a review board that consists of a medical doctor, a retired police detective, a counselor, a retired psychologist, a high school principal, a Jewish attorney, a Lutheran minister, a parent, a permanent deacon and a pastor who served on the committee which wrote the standards for ministerial behavior.
They then decide if the allegations are credible. If so, the employee or clergy is removed from active duty. Baker, however, was never part of the Youngstown Diocese clergy, Murry said. Murry said they reported the conclusion of their investigation to Trumbull County Children Services, who said they are unable to pursue any course of action because the alleged victims are all adults.
Murry said the investigation found the allegations credible and that they participated in mediation to “promote healing.”
“Sexual abuse damages the life of a victim,” Murry said. “An unproven allegation of sexual abuse damages the life of an innocent person.”
Murry said he will invite alleged victims to meet with him so he can apologize face-to-face. He also said he would celebrate a “mass of healing and reconciliation” at JFK. Murry also said there are no current investigations into any wrongdoing by employees or clergy from the diocese.
More than 35 former students at JFK and Bishop McCort have alleged friar Stephen P. Baker sexually molested them under the guise of treating sports-related injuries at the schools, including the 11 that received settlements.
Garabedian said on Thursday a teacher at one of the schools, who eventually committed suicide in Canada, was aware of the abuse allegations and instructed at least one student to stay away from Baker.
Murry said no teachers or administrators were aware of any allegation while Baker was at the school.
Victim’s advocates have called for a criminal investigation by Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains, who said victims must go through proper channels of reporting crimes before an investigation can take place.
About 20 students in Warren, including the original 11, have alleged abuse by Baker and at least 15 others from Bishop McCort have alleged abuse, according to Garabedian and Johnstown attorney Michael Parrish.
Five former Bishop McCort students in phone interviews and two from Warren JFK said they believe dozens, possibly hundreds, of other students were abused by Baker.
Garabedian said Baker’s assignments include JFK High School from 1986-1992. Murry said he and other friars working outside the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese were recalled back to the area because of a declining number of friars.
Baker was then assigned to McCort High School from 1993-2000, where held identical positions. 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.
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 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. The 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.
“I’m deeply sorry for the pain which the victims of Brother Baker endured while at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren,” Murry said Thursday. “Brother Baker betrayed the trust, which these young men placed in him as a spiritual leader. While I know nothing I can say will eliminate their agony I want them to know I will stand with them and will not tolerate abusive behavior from church officials.”