Pa. Attorney to Sue Youngstown Diocese over Abuse

January 25, 2013

A Pennsylvania attorney has filed a notice of intent to sue the Catholic diocese in Youngstown and Johnstown, Pa. and a school where a Franciscan friar allegedly abused teenage boys he was supposed to be treating for sports-related injuries.

About 60 people have now alleged abuse against Franciscan friar Brother Stephen P. Baker during his tenures at Warren’s John F. Kennedy High School and Johnstown, Pa.’s Bishop McCort High School, according to several attorneys now involved in the case.

Baker, according to attorneys and seven alleged victims from JFK and Bishop McCort, used his position as athletic trainer at the schools from 1986-2000 to give teenage boys massages where he would fondle their genitals and digitally penetrate them. Baker was also a religion teacher and baseball coach at both schools.

Baker was removed from ministry at Bishop McCort in 2000 when allegations surfaced that Baker molested a student during the 1980s. A confidential lawsuit was resolved in 2002, the Altoona Mirror reported. Bishop McCort, which is no longer a diocese school, launched an internal investigation Thursday, according to diocese spokesman Matthew Beynon. The diocese was in charge of the school when the alleged abuse occurred. They hired former Allegheny County District Attorney Kathleen A. Gallagher and Eckert Seamans to investigate the claims.

Fr. Patrick Quinn, the superior of the T.O.R. Franciscans, has said Baker is on strict supervision at the St. Bernadine’s Monastery in Hollidaysburg, Pa.

Last week, Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who won in 2003 an $85 million lawsuit against the Boston Catholic Diocese, announced 10 former Warren JFK students and a former St. Mary’s student reached high-five figure settlements where the Youngstown Diocese paid 30 percent and the T.O.R. Franciscans paid 70 percent.

Baker, when contacted before the announcement was made last week, said he was “flabbergasted” by the allegations and settlements.

Bishop George Murry said on Thursday their investigation revealed the allegations were “credible” and participated in mediation negotiations in order to help the alleged victims.

Greensburg, Pa. attorney Susan N. Williams filed a notice of intent to sue Bishop McCort, the Catholic dioceses of Altoona-Johnstown and Youngstown and the T.O.R. Franciscan Order in the Cambria County Court Common Pleas Court.

The notice, called a Praecipe to Issue Writ of Summons, was filed Monday on behalf of three unnamed plaintiffs. The filing says the complaint, which will be filed at a later date, claims the organizations were intentionally negligent.

Garabedian said at least one teacher knew about Baker’s abusive behavior towards students. Both Murry and the Altoona-Youngstown diocese have said officials were never made aware of abuse allegations by students at the time. The seven victims interviewed said they never directly informed adults or school officials about the abuse because it was so ingrained in the schools’ culture.

The seven interviewed have said in phone interviews 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.

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.








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