Friar Accused of Molestation Taught in Norfolk
By Bill Sizemore
March 4, 2013
A Roman Catholic friar who killed himself in Pennsylvania a month ago amid allegations that he molested dozens of schoolboys for decades was on the faculty at a parochial school in Norfolk in the 1970s.
Now an organization of clergy abuse victims wants to know whether he molested students then.
Brother Stephen Baker, 62, stabbed himself in the heart at a monastery in central Pennsylvania on Jan. 26, days after it was disclosed that 11 of his accusers in Ohio received financial settlements. Since that disclosure, attorneys say, more than 50 additional accusers have come forward.
Baker, a member of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regular, was on the faculty at James Barry Robinson High School, a Catholic boys boarding school in Norfolk, early in his career. The facility closed as a school in 1977 and is now a treatment center for emotionally disturbed children.
The national organization SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, last week called on church officials to disclose whether they know of any abuse by Baker during his time in Norfolk and to proactively seek out possible victims.
"We are worried that Baker may have abused children here in Virginia," said Becky Ianni, SNAP's Virginia director. "Rarely does a child molester just start or stop molesting out of the blue."
She urged Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, which includes Hampton Roads, to use the diocesan website, newspaper, parish bulletins and pulpit announcements to invite anyone who saw, suspected or suffered abuse from Baker to come forward.
"As a victim of clergy abuse, I know how hard it is to come forward," Ianni said. "Shame, guilt, fear of not being believed all keep victims suffering in silence. Feeling alone with your pain is one of the worst feelings any human being can experience."
Anne Edwards, special assistant to DiLorenzo, said the diocese has received no allegations of abuse by Baker during his time in Norfolk. Noting that James Barry Robinson was not a diocesan school, she said she knows of no effort to seek out victims.
The Norfolk school was operated by the Franciscan order under contract with a board of trustees. Chuck McPhillips, chairman of the James Barry Robinson Trust, said the board has received no allegations of abuse by Baker.
"We'd be absolutely horrified" if any such accusations arose, McPhillips said.
Allegations against Baker first became public Jan. 16. That's when Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian disclosed he had negotiated settlements on behalf of 11 men who said they were abused by the friar during his tenure as a religion teacher, baseball coach and athletic trainer at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, from 1986 to 1990.
The settlements with the school, the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown and the Franciscan order were in the "high five figures," Garabedian said.
More than 50 men in several states have come forward with similar accusations since then, he said.
Baker killed himself at St. Bernardine Monastery near Hollidaysburg, Pa., where he had been living since Franciscan officials first learned in 2000 that he had been accused of abusing students. The Rev. Patrick Quinn, minister provincial of the religious order, has told reporters that Baker was kept under supervision and not allowed any contact with children.
Last month, Bishop George Murry of the Youngstown diocese sent a letter to about 1,800 former students at John F. Kennedy, asking them to come forward if they had knowledge of abuse by Baker or were abused themselves.
Last week, Richard Serbin, an attorney in Altoona, Pa., filed suit on behalf of three men who say they were molested by Baker when he was on the faculty at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown, Pa., in the 1990s. He still is getting calls from alleged victims and plans to file more lawsuits, Serbin said.
Last year, Paul Traub, a Loudoun County man who grew up in Virginia Beach, disclosed that he had reached settlements with the Franciscans and the James Barry Robinson board in 2003 and 2004 over his allegations of abuse by the Rev. Martin Brady, who was headmaster at the Norfolk school from 1968 to 1972. Brady died in 2003.