Another Lawsuit Filed against Catholic Leaders for Baker Sex Abuse

By Adam Ferrise
Fox Youngstown
February 25, 2013

[with video]

The third lawsuit against Catholic leaders in Pennsylvania was filed Monday, accusing church leaders of allowing Brother Stephen Baker access to teenage students he allegedly sexually abused.

Johnstown, Pa. attorney Richard Serbin filed a lawsuit Monday in Blair County Court for three unnamed alleged sexual abuse victims, who were molested by Baker while they were students at Bishop McCort High School. Baker was a religious teacher, baseball coach and athletic trainer at Bishop McCort and held the same positions at Warren’s John F. Kennedy High School.

Serbin said Monday in a phone interview he has more than three clients that Baker abused and said he would likely add more to the lawsuit. He also said he expects more to come forward throughout the process.

The filing, called a Praecipe to Issue Writ of Summons, notifies defendants that a lawsuit has been started against them. The filing says Serbin will allege sexual abuse as the reason for the lawsuit and a complaint detailing allegations will be filed at a later time.

The filing names Bishop McCort, the Third Order Regular Franciscans and the Johnstown-Altoona Catholic Diocese, as did a similar lawsuit filed by Greensburg, Pa. attorney Susan Williams in Cambria County Court.

The new lawsuit, however, also named the Province of the Immaculate Conception, which Serbin said is the particular identity of the order Baker belonged to within the Franciscans. He also named former T.O.R. Provincial Robert D’Aversa and former Altoona-Johnstown Diocese Bishop Joseph V. Adamec as defendants, both of whom were in their respective positions when the alleged abuse occurred. Neither are currently at those positions.

Serbin said both the Catholic diocese and the Franciscan Order were responsible for Baker.

“There’s a dual responsibility,” Serbin said. “They have a responsibility to answer to the provincial of their order, but if they’re assigned to a particular diocese, they also have to answer to the bishop of that diocese. Here there was a school Brother Baker was assigned to. He would have had to answer to both and they could have both exercised authority over him.”

The Youngstown Catholic Diocese on Monday said they've received no more allegations of sexual abuse after they sent out 1,800 letters to former students. They also said they have no knowledge of what happened with Brother Baker anywhere outside their diocese.

The diocese, in a statement, said they've interviewed all current faculty and staff that worked with Babker and are in the process of contacting others that no longer work at the school to see if they knew of any abuse allegations.

Baker, 62, fatally stabbed himself in the heart Jan. 26 at St. Bernadine’s Monestary in Hollidaysburg, where Baker had been living under strict supervision since 2000, when Franciscan officials first learned Baker was accused of sexually abusing students.

Officials said he left a suicide note that apologized for his behavior. They also found sealed envelopes addressed to others.

The allegations against Baker first became widely known 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.

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.

The first lawsuit in Pennsylvania was filed Jan. 22 in Cambria County Common Pleas Court against the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, Bishop McCort and the Franciscan Order. A complaint detailing the lawsuit has not yet been filed.

Another lawsuit, also filed by Williams on behalf of four unnamed Baker victims, was filed Feb. 11 against the Province of the Immaculate Conception of the Franciscan Friars.

The first known settlement made by Catholic religious leaders stemming from Baker’s alleged sexual abuse was in 2005, when Douglas Larson, of St. Cloud, Minn. settled with the diocese and Franciscans for $50,000.

Larson told WKBN.COM he met Baker through his church, where Baker taught catechism classes with his mother in 1977 at St. Patrick’s Church in Inver Grove Heights, Minn.

From there Baker worked at Orchard Lake Schools, in Orchard Lake, Mich. from 1983 to 1985. The Detroit Catholic Diocese has said they have never received complaints or allegations of sexual abuse by Baker during his tenure. He was then sent to JFK where he worked from 1986-1992, and Bishop McCort from until being removed from ministry in 2000 because of sexual abuse allegations against Larson.

Baker was accused by dozens of former students at Warren’s John F. Kennedy High School and Johnstown, Pa.’s Bishop McCort of sexually abusing boys between 14 and 18 years old seeking sports injury treatment.

Baker, according to attorneys and seven alleged victims from JFK and Bishop McCort interviewed by WKBN.COM, 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.

Bishop McCort, which is no longer a diocese school, initiated an internal investigation. 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.

Baker, when contacted before the announcement was made public, said he was “flabbergasted” by the allegations and settlements. He thanked a WKBN.COM reporter during a brief interview 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.

The students, all interviewed separately, 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. One Warren mother, Barbara Aponte said she believes her son, Luke Bradesku, who attended JFK from 1990 to 1994, committed suicide in 2003 because he was molested by Baker.

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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