Group decries Baker settlement

By Guy Vogrin
Altoona Mirror
September 14, 2016

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - The co-founder of an advocacy group for sexual abuse victims said Tuesday the latest settlement of $900,000 paid by the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown and an order of Franciscan Friars in Pennsylvania is not enough to compensate "for the agony these men are going through."

The announcement Monday of the settlement of some 28 sexual abuse claims through mediation led two members of Road to Recovery Inc. to hold a news conference Tuesday morning across the street from St. Columba Cathedral, the diocese flagship church, to air their grievances.

The victims in the settlement claim they were abused by Franciscan Brother Stephen Baker in the 1980s and 1990s while he was a coach, athletic trainer and teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren. Baker, a member of the Third Order Regular, Franciscan Friars Province of the Immaculate Conception based in Hollidaysburg, committed suicide in 2013 at age 62 after the abuse allegations came to light.

Monsignor John Zuraw, chancellor of the diocese, said all the victims signed off on the process and agreed to the amount after three days of mediation in February. As a final point, Zuraw said the victims' lawyer asked for the diocese to pay for therapeutic counseling.

"We agreed to that point," Zuraw said, adding the victims can choose whoever they wished.

Dr. Robert Hoatson, co-founder of Road to Recovery, called the settlement amount "a paltry sum."

"I don't know whether we should be crying or laughing," Hoatson said, adding he received a text from a victim's father, who told him the settlement will not help with his son's healing.

However, Hoatson said the settlement was acknowledgment by the church that the victims' stories were credible.

"There is a sense of closure to this," Hoatson said. "Many victims want to get on with their lives."

Barbara Aponte, a former Niles resident whose son, Luke Bradesku, was one of Baker's victims said she was not happy with the settlement amount. Bradesku committed suicide at age 26.

"Nine hundred thousand sounds like a large sum, but when you divide that among the 28 victims ... as a parent, what that says to me is his life is worth about $20,000 to $25,000," Aponte said. "There is no amount of money that would take away what happened."

Aponte said her son first attempted suicide when he was a freshman at JFK. At times, Aponte became emotional when talking about Luke, displaying his military dog tag that identified him as a Roman Catholic and a cross that held some of his remains. She wore these mementoes on a chain around her neck.

"He was a loving person," she said with tears rolling down her cheek. "He struggled to stay alive, to find self-worth. But he accomplished every goal he set out for himself," Aponte said.

The mother worked at the school as a secretary and substitute teacher to help pay for the tuition costs, and she said she feels let down by an institution she no longer belongs to.

"I feel personally victimized by this church, de-valued by this church, watching them demonstrate over and over that their primary goal is self-protection and self-promotion," Aponte said. "It is devastating and heart-breaking. This has been a nightmare, and it has ended with a slap in the face to all of the victims, every one of them."

Aponte said she had tried three times to talk to Bishop George Murry of the Diocese of Youngstown but has yet to do so.

Zuraw said the bishop would be willing to talk to Aponte as a pastor.

"He is not a civil lawyer, but he can talk about the healing process," Zuraw said about Murry. "All she has to do is to call, identify herself and make an appointment."

Aponte said she felt "wore down" by the process.

"I don't have the endurance to drag this out," she said. "It was attrition; that's what it was. This is hard. It brings this all back up. I don't have the energy to deal with all the nonsense anymore."

Hoatson said he would like to see Murry open the books and publish the records of sexual abuse by clergy.

Zuraw said the church itself has taken steps to recover.

"Did we make mistakes? Yes, we did," Zuraw said, adding that the diocese recently hired a victims' advocate in retired Youngstown police detective Delphine Baldwin-Casey, whose job is to report all cases of sex abuse to authorities.

Zuraw said the clergy needs to be held to a higher standard than anybody else because people hold them in a position of high trust whether it be areas of faith, finances or other life issues.

"Boston (clergy sex abuse scandal) was a wake-up call. That should tell us it can't be business as usual," Zuraw said.

The Tribune Chronicle is a sister paper of the Mirror.


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