Alleged Abuser, Brother Baker, Commits Suicide
January 27, 2013
The Catholic Franciscan friar accused of sexually molesting students at Warren's John F. Kennedy High School and Johnstown, Pa.'s Bishop McCort High School committed suicide with a knife early Saturday morning, police officials in Blair Township said.
Blair Township Police Chief Roger White said the results of an autopsy conducted at 2 p.m. Saturday by the Blair County Coroner's office at Nason Hospital in Roaring Spring, Pa. showed Brother Stephen P. Baker, also known as Paul Stephen Baker, committed suicide by way of a self-inflicted knife wound. He was 62.
White said in a statement that Blair Township police, state police and Holidaysburg emergency personnel were called at about 7:30 a.m. Saturday to St. Bernadine's Monastary in Hollidaysburg, where Baker had been staying under strict supervision since 2000, when Franciscan officials first learned Baker was accused of sexually abusing students.
A resident at the monastery found Baker not breathing and called 911. He was pronounced dead at the scene by deputy coroner Brian Reidy. The autopsy found Baker's death was just prior to the 911 call.
Youngstown Catholic Diocese Bishop George Murry said in a statement that Father Patrick Quinn, the major superior of the Third Order Regular Franciscans, announced Saturday that Baker died.
"Let us continue to pray for all victims of abuse, for Brother Baker’s family and the repose of his soul," Murry said in the statement.
A spokesman for the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Baker was accused by dozens of former students at the two schools of sexually abusing boys between 14 and 18 years old seeking sports injury treatment.
Youngstown Diocese Bishop George Murry apologized Thursday to alleged victims of sexual abuse, the first time Murry directly addressed questions of the abuse and the settlements with the diocese and the Franciscan order brought to the public's attention last week by Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who negotiated high-five figure settlements for 10 former Warren JFK students and one former St. Mary's middle school student.
Last week, a Pennsylvania attorney filed a notice of intent to sue the Youngstown and the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic diocese and Bishop McCort on behalf of three unnamed former McCort students. 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.
About 60 people have now alleged abuse against Franciscan friar Brother Stephen P. Baker during his time at the two schools, 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.
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.
Quinn, the superior of the T.O.R. Franciscans, had said Baker was on strict supervision at the St. Bernadine’s Monastery in Hollidaysburg, Pa.
Last week, Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who 2003 won 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. He thanked a reporter during a brief interview with our newsroom for contacting him and said he would ask superiors if he could comment further.
Murry said on Thursday their investigation revealed the allegations were “credible” and participated in mediation negotiations in order to help the alleged victims.
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.
A redacted copy of the settlement that omitted the names of the victims and the total amount of money agreed to be given to the victims, 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.