Altoona-johnstown Diocese "Retrenching" in Wake of Abuse Report

By Dave Sutor
The Tribune-Democrat
November 29, 2016

An alleged victim of child sexual abuse, who came forward shortly after a grand jury report was released that accused the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona–Johnstown of orchestrating a decades-long coverup of pedophilia within its ranks, now finds himself at odds with the diocese over a proposed settlement.

The now 34-year-old man claims he was abused by Brother Stephen Baker from approximately 1996 to 1998 ,when both were at what was then called Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown.

Robert Hoatson, co-founder of Road to Recovery, a support group for victims, said a settlement offer has been made by the diocese and Third Order Regular, Province of the Immaculate Conception, which assigned Baker to Bishop McCort. But Hoatson described the amount as “peanuts.”

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston-based lawyer who represents the accuser, said, “The diocese and the Franciscans are re-victimizing my client.”

He accused the diocese of acting in an “extremely non-pastoral way.”

Hoatson blames Bishop Mark Bartchak for, in his opinion, not living up to his promise to help victims.

“For the last year and a half or so, Bishop Bartchak has been actually sending out a regular appeal to victims to come forward, especially those who have been abused by priests and religious leaders,” Hoatson said during a press conference held across the street from Bishop McCort on Tuesday.

“Of course, we know that Brother Stephen Baker (was) perhaps the most prolific abuser here in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese. Well, a young man, 34 years old, answered the call of Bishop Bartchak to come forward. Bishop Bartchak has promised that the victims will receive a warm welcome, that they will be helped, that their needs will be met. And we're finding just the opposite once again. The church is retrenching.”

The accuser, whose name has been withheld, came forward on March 7.

On March 1, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General issued a grand jury report in which it accused the diocese of protecting at least 50 priests and other religious leaders accused of sexually abusing children.

Baker allegedly abused dozens of children during his time at Bishop McCort, from 1992 through 2001.

The AG's investigation into the diocese is still considered to be open.

“The diocese does not comment on the details of settlements, nor can we discuss any matter related to the ongoing investigation of the diocese,” Tony DeGol, secretary for communications, wrote in an email. “As always, we offer our continued prayers and support to anyone who has been harmed in the church.”

Thomas Farrell, an attorney representing the order, could not immediately be reached for comment.









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