Minn. Man Won Settlement for Friar Abuse in 2005
By Adam Ferrise
February 2, 2013
A Minnesota man who was awarded a $50,000 settlement in 2005 from the Third Order Regular Franciscans after he told religious officials in St. Paul, Minn., that he was abused by Brother Stephen Baker said Friday he experienced anger and relief when he heard Baker committed suicide Saturday by stabbing himself in the heart.
Douglas Larson, 49, of St. Cloud, Minn., said Friday in a phone interview that he felt he found closure when Baker committed suicide. Victims of sexual abuse are normally unnamed, but Larson said his name should be used because he has nothing to hide and did nothing wrong.
“This is a chapter in my book that is closed,” said Larson, who is battling diminishing eyesight that forced him to retire from his structural drafting career. “He can’t do anything to me or anybody else.”
St. Paul, Minn. attorney Jeff Andersen, a clergy sexual abuse expert civil litigator who said he’s won clergy sex abuse cases in nine states, including for Larson against Baker, confirmed the settlement.
Larson’s allegations shows the expansive impact Baker had on boys across the eastern half of the country, from Minnesota to Johnstown, Pa. More than 80 former students at Warren’s John F. Kennedy and Johnstown, Pa.’s Bishop McCort high schools alleged they were sexually abused by Baker.
The allegations against Baker first became known to the public Jan. 16, when Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian announced he negotiated high-five figure settlements through mediation for 10 former JFK students and one former St. Mary’s Middle School student. The Third Order Regular Franciscans paid 70 percent of the lawsuit and the Youngstown Catholic Diocese paid 30 percent. Baker was a religious teacher, baseball coach and athletic trainer at JFK.
Since, dozens of former students at both schools have alleged Baker sexually abused them under the guise of giving sports injury and injury prevention treatment. A notice of pending civil action was filed in Cambria County Common Pleas Court against the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, Bishop McCort and the Franciscan Order.
Larson said he believes he’s one of Baker’s first victims. He said he first met Baker in 1977, when he was in eighth grade, through his mother, who taught catechism classes alongside Baker at St. Patrick’s Church in Inver Grove Heights, Minn.
“He was really easy to get along with,” Larson said. “All the kids my age hung around him.”
At the time, Larson said Baker was a cook for the priest and taught religion classes at the church. Larson said Baker took interest in him because he played sports and said he sexually abused him by giving massages with what Baker called special oils.
“I think it just depresses you,” Larson said. “You feel dirty. You’re like, what did I do that he wanted to be with me? I always felt dirty, even after when I was with a woman. There were times I drank a lot. There hasn’t been a week that’s gone by that it hasn’t come up in my mind.”
Larson said his family moved to Cannon Falls, Minn. the next year. After graduating high school, Larson served six years in the Marine Corps., then started his career in drafting. He said he decided to contact the St. Paul Archdiocese in 2003 because he decided he needed help dealing with the effects of abuse.
“I think you just live with it so long, you finally decide you need help,” Larson said. “I went through all those years. It just tears you apart.”
He said he called the St. Paul Archdiocese, who referred him to the Provincial Franciscan Order Superior, Fr. Anthony Criscitelli. Larson said Criscitelli told him there was a similar abuse claim from Michigan against Baker and that officials refused to answer questions until he hired Andersen and threatened to tell local news organizations.
“Then they made me a $50,000 offer with no gag order,” Larson said. “But all they told me is that they’ve removed him from working and that he was working as a gardener at a monastery.”
Andersen said in a phone interview part of the settlement included a clause that Baker never be allowed to return to any form of ministry.
“I applaud him for coming forward against Brother Baker and for sharing his story,” Andersen said. “It’s the courage of people like him that expose people like Baker. He did everything to make sure Baker wasn’t put back into ministry.”
Criscitelli, who is now the pastor of St. Bridget in Minneapolis, directed calls to current TOR Provincial Order Superior Fr. Patrick Quinn.
“Given the delicacy of the situation, our present Provincial Superior should address those questions,” Criscitelli said. “As you might expect, things are pretty busy over there lately.”
The St. Paul Archdiocese said because Baker was a Franciscan, they are unable to comment and directed questions to Quinn, who failed to return a message seeking comment. A woman answering the phone at St. Mary’s Church said they have a pastor new to the area and that he was out of state.
Baker worked at James Barry-Robinson High School and Home for Boys in Norfolk, Va. until 1977, and left St. Patrick’s in 1981 to work at St. Mary’s Prep High School in Orchard Lake, Mich. from 1983-1985. The Detroit Archdiocese said Thursday there were no reports of alleged abuse during Baker’s tenure or afterword. Andersen said Friday, however, that at the time of negotiations, religious officials said their was a similar allegation of abuse by Baker in Michigan.
Baker then worked at Warren’s JFK from 1986-1992 and Bishop McCort from 1993-2000. He was found dead at St. Bernadine’s Monestary in Hollidaysburg, Pa. on Saturday, where he lived under strict supervision for the past 13 years.
Larson said he spends his time attending rehabilitation classes to help with his diminishing eyesight. He said he has a good guide dog, Ty. Larson said he hadn’t heard about Baker until a wire story appeared in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and said his mother heard about Baker’s suicide through friends in Inver Grove Heights.
He said when he read previous stories about Baker’s abuse, he felt like he wasn’t alone.
“It kind of helped me to hear some of those other guys talk, to know I wasn’t the only one,” Larson said. “It makes me feel a little better that he didn’t target just me, that this was a sickness he had against boys.”