Advocates Baker Worked in Mich., Va., before Warren

January 31, 2013

The Catholic Diocese of Detroit is looking into whether Brother Stephen P. Baker, the Franciscan friar who fatally stabbed himself in the heart Saturday after more than 80 former students in Warren and Johnstown, Pa. accused him of sexually molesting them during the 1980s and 1990s, had worked at high school in Orchard Lake, Mich.

Victim advocates on Wednesday said they are hoping officials at Catholic dioceses in Detroit and in Richmond, Va. come forward with information about Baker's tenure at the two schools where he taught before transferring to teach religion, coach baseball and serve as the athletic trainer at Warren’s John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in 1986.

The advocates, from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Baker worked at the now-defunct James Barry-Robinson High School and Home for Boys in Nofolk, Va. from 1977 to 1983. They also said he was assigned to St. Mary’s Prep High School in Orchard Lake, Mich. from 1983 to 1985, when he was then transferred to Warren.

A spokesman for the Detroit Catholic Diocese said on Wednesday they are aware of the allegations that Baker worked within their diocese but have been unable to find records of his employment. He said the diocese is “taking extra steps” to see if they can find records of him working in the area. A call to St. Mary’s Prep was not immediately returned.

A spokesman for the Richmond, Va. Diocese said he believed no records existed of Baker’s tenure at the school since Baker was not considered a clergy member and not under the diocese’s jurisdiction. He also said James Barry-Robinson High School was never under the diocese’s jurisdiction and was considered a private school, not a Catholic school.

Blair County, Pa. officials said Baker, 62, fatally stabbed himself in the heart Saturday and left a suicide note that apologized to his victims for his behavior. They also found sealed envelopes addressed to victims. Officials said they would distribute the closed letters to those they were addressed to.

Baker was found dead at St. Bernadine's Monastery in Hollidaysburg, where Baker had been living under strict supervision since 2000, when Franciscan officials first learned Baker was accused of sexually abusing students.

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 to Baker’s victims.

Two weeks ago, an attorney for 10 former JFK students and a former St. Mary’s Middle School student said they reached settlements with the diocese and the Franciscan order.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who negotiated high-five figure settlements for the students questioned why church officials allowed Baker to be with children for so long. Baker worked at JFK from 1986-1992. He then went on to hold identical positions at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, Pa., where former students have made identical allegations of sexual abuse.

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 80 people have now alleged abuse against 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 through mediation in 2002.

Bishop McCort, which is no longer a diocese school, initiated an internal investigation, 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, who are now in private practice, to investigate the claims.

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 two weeks ago, 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.

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

The five Bishop McCort and two JFK students have said in phone interviews they believe dozens, possibly hundreds, of other students were abused by Baker.

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, not because of abuse allegations.

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.








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