Attorney: Brother Baker Also Abused Female Students

By Adam Ferrise
March 20, 2013

An Altoona attorney handling several lawsuits for former students who were allegedly sexually molested by Brother Stephen Baker, a teacher, athletic trainer and coach accused of abusing students across the Midwest, including in Warren, said Wednesday he is now representing a woman who claimed she was assaulted.

Attorney Richard Serbin, who is currently handling five lawsuits against area Catholic leaders in Pennsylvania courts, said on Wednesday his client was abused at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown starting when she was 15 years old.

Dozens of former male students have claimed abuse, including 11 from Warren’s John F. Kennedy High School and St. Mary’s Middle School who were paid five-figure settlements from Youngstown Catholic Diocese and the Third Order Regular Franciscans for Baker’s actions, but no allegations of sexual abuse against female students had emerged until Wednesday.

Serbin said the type of abuse the girl endured paralleled the abuse endured by dozens of former male students who claimed Baker fondled them and digitally penetrated them under the guise of treating and providing preventative care for sports injuries.

Serbin said his client believes other female athletes and cheerleaders at the school were also abused by Baker. Serbin also said he’s received information from clients that Baker may have molested middle school-aged students during parish-sponsored programs.

“The many years I’ve been doing this I’ve learned it’s always tough for child abuse victims to come forward,” Serbin said. “It’s particularly difficult in this case, because of the suicide of Baker and strong feelings for many, but not all, about the school.”

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 say they first learned Baker was accused of sexually abusing students.

Serbin said Wednesday he’s currently handling five lawsuits, including one with Boston attorney Mitchell Garabidean, who successfully negotiated the settlements for the Warren victims. He said he has discussed the allegations made by other clients with the diocese attorneys.

Serbin said he would not disclose the nature of the discussions or if he was negotiating settlements with Catholic leaders because it was too early in the process.

“It’s premature until we see how many victims of molestation on dealing with,” Serbin said.

There are at least two other pending lawsuits against area Catholic leaders filed in Pennsylvania and Garabidean has said recently he is handling about 65 clients who allege Baker abused them.

The allegations against Baker first became widely known Jan. 16, when 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 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, 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.

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.

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.

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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