Friar's Suicide Challenging for Victims, Not for Impending Legal Cases

By Maria Miller
The Wjac
January 28, 2013

[with video]

6 News uncovered new details Monday in the case against a friar accused of sexually abusing students at Bishop McCort High School in the '90s.

Brother Stephen Baker was found dead in his room at the St. Bernadine Monastery in Hollidaysburg, Blair County. Investigators ruled it a suicide.

On Monday, 6 News found out the reason why Baker was removed from Bishop McCort in 2000 in the first place. According to the Rev. Patrick Quinn, who's a member of the Franciscan Order to which Baker belonged, an allegation against Baker surfaced in Minnesota. Once the order got wind of it, friars removed him from Bishop McCort.

Allegations involving McCort students didn't surface until more than a decade later. In 2011, Bishop Mark Bartchak of the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese said he immediately alerted authorities. Johnstown police said Monday they were made aware of two cases, but couldn't take action.

"Those cases were referred to (members of) our detective bureau, who did make contact with one individual who declined any police prosecution in (the) case," said Johnstown Police Cheif Craig Foust. "If there's no victim (there's no case.) Unfortunately that's the case on both of these incidents."

Now that Baker is dead, the question is: What happens to the allegations against him?

For the past week, 6 News reporter Maria Miller has been in close touch with four attorneys representing alleged victims from Bishop McCort. Some of them even contacted her at home over the weekend after hearing of Baker's suicide. They told her that his death shouldn't pose a problem for their cases moving forward, but said it is another complicated layer in an already tragic situation.

"I didn't think this could become any more tragic," said Greensburg attorney Susan Williams, who is representing six alleged victims. "But with the suicide of Brother Baker, it has become more tragic."

"The people that were impacted by this, the young men that he encountered, a lot of them are hurt, angry and suffering," said Johnstown attorney Michael Parrish, who is representing at least 20 others.

Coming forward is already an emotional challenge for victims of sexual abuse, and the attorneys say the death of an alleged perpetrator, especially by suicide, only makes it more difficult.

"Victims are going to have to heal on their own terms, at their own time and they can only take steps towards healing through the years," said Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who specializes in cases of clergy sexual abuse. "Many of them won't gain complete closure, but they'll learn to deal with the trauma of being sexually abused."

But all four attorneys agree it won't hurt their cases. They said Monday it seems evident, by talking with their clients, that everyone at the school knew what was going on, including teachers and staff.

"Where were the supervisors?" said Garabedian. "Once again the question is, where were the supervisors? Why weren't they properly supervising?"

"Everybody knew it was going on, I think," said Williams. "When individuals did report to school administration or teachers, they were told, 'It's just Bro. Don't worry about it.'" 

"We'll seek to hold those parties responsible," said Parrish. "The fact that he's no longer here is not going to change that."

The fourth attorney 6 News has been speaking with is Richard Serbin, of Altoona. He said this is the third case he's been involved with where the alleged perpetrator has killed himself. He too agrees it's a challenge for the victims, but not for his case moving forward.


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