Former Orchard Lake Schools Friar Accused of Molestation Left Apology Note after Suicide
By Carol Hopkins
January 31, 2013
Officials with SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are inviting people to come forward after learning a Franciscan friar who once worked at Orchard Lake Schools committed suicide and left a note apologizing to his victims.
Brother Stephen Baker worked at the school in Orchard Lake between 1983 and 85. There is no record that Baker molested anyone connected with the school system, said officials with the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Baker, 62 — who killed himself Jan. 26 with a self-inflicted knife wound to the heart at the St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg, Pa. — is accused of molesting high school students in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Baker was named in legal settlements last week involving 11 men who alleged that he sexually abused them at a Catholic high school in northeast Ohio three decades ago. The undisclosed financial settlements announced Jan. 16 involved his contact with students at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio from 1986-90.
Baker left a note apologizing for his actions, officials reported.
“The note was an apology for his behavior,” Blair County Coroner Patricia Ross told the Altoona Mirror without offering specifics about the note, which was just a few lines.
The Detroit Archdiocese reported having no record of sexual abuse complaints brought against Baker during his time in Michigan.
“As a professed Franciscan friar, Brother Baker took classes and worked at Orchard Lakes Schools,” according to a statement released by the archdiocese. “The school reports that it does not have any record of an abuse complaint during or after those years. Neither the archdiocese nor Orchard Lake Schools ever received any reports/advisories from the other locations where Brother Baker subsequently worked. Additionally, we were not informed of the legal claims made against Brother Baker or his apparent suicide last weekend.”
Matt Jatczak, the Detroit area leader for SNAP, said his organization learned about Baker’s suicide Sunday.
“It’s another tragedy,” said Jatczak, who stressed he believes church officials should have come forward earlier about Baker’s activities.
Jatczak, who stated he was a victim of sexual abuse by another priest, believes Michigan victims will come forward in time, and he urged them to first call police in their community.
“SNAP is also there to listen and lend any kind of support to the victims.”
Ohio and Pennsylvania incidents
Since then, Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney involved in the Ohio cases, said former Kennedy students have come forward to allege abuse by Baker.
Garabedian and other attorneys said about 20 former students at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, Pa., also have come forward with similar accusations against Baker, who was a teacher and trainer with the school’s baseball team. The former Pennsylvania students allege that Baker assaulted or molested students under the guise of providing therapeutic treatment or medical care for sports injuries, said Michael Parrish, the Johnstown attorney representing some of those students.
Baker taught and coached at Kennedy from 1986 to the early 1990s and was at Bishop McCort from 1992 to 2000.
One man interviewed by Detroit’s WJBK-TV said when he was younger, he encountered Baker, who worked as an athletic trainer.
“A quadricep muscle that was injured, back muscle, shoulders, whatever, you were usually asked to strip down regardless of the place where the injury was,” said Michael Munno, a former Kennedy High School student and one of the men who received a settlement.
One expert on clergy abuse said the suicide and note may not have much impact on future lawsuits.
Marci A. Hamilton, a professor of law at Yeshiva University in New York, stated the note “makes it easier for plaintiffs in the sense that it is an admission to some wrongdoing.” But she added that’s not necessary when a number of unrelated victims say that the same person abused them, because “they are corroborating the claims of wrongdoing with even more specificity.”
Father Patrick Quinn, the head of Baker’s order, the Third Order Regular Franciscans, has said it’s not clear what impact, if any, the death would have on the claims that have surfaced.
In the Kennedy case, mediation settlements involved the school, the Third Order Regular Franciscans and the Youngstown diocese, which said it was unaware of the allegations until nearly 20 years after the alleged abuse.
Youngstown Bishop George Murry said Monday that when he was informed sometime in 2011 about the alleged abuse at Kennedy, he called Franciscans and was told Baker had already been removed from public ministry to keep him away from children.
Because of statute of limitation issues, the cases were resolved without criminal charges or lawsuits, Garabedian said.
One attorney representing three alleged victims has already filed a notice that she intends to sue Baker’s order, Bishop McCort and the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, which used to run the school. Bishop McCort’s board has also announced it is investigating the students’ claims.
Contact Carol Hopkins at 248-745-4645 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @OPCarolHopkins or on Facebook @OPcarolhopkins. The Associated Press contributed to this report.