Sex abuse lawsuit alleges fraud and conspiracy by Bishop McCort High School & Diocese

By Crispin Havener
October 11, 2019

[with video]

A new civil lawsuit filed Thursday alleges fraud and conspiracy against Bishop McCort Catholic High School, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular, over allegations of sexual abuse made by a former student who attended the school from 2000 to 2002.

The plaintiff, listed in the complaint as "A.L.", said the abuse by an unnamed "priest and athletic trainer" employed by the school in Johnstown, the diocese, and the Third Order Regular Friars, started after the student suffered an injury during a freshman day camp. The athletic trainer, according to the complaint, rubbed the plaintiff's leg under the guise of treatment but proceeded to assault the student.

Other abuses are alleged in the complaint to have happened over the two year period, including in a bathroom at the Visitation Church near the school. The plaintiff said other students mentioned getting "rub downs" from the "John Doe" athletic trainer.

The victim, who is older than 30 and has aged out of the statute of limitations for civil suits, is filing suit claiming allegations of abuse by others were not known to him until the 2016 grand jury report into the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown came out. This summer, a state Superior Court panel reinstated Renee Rice's lawsuit alleging the diocese and two bishops illegally tried to cover up her abuse to protect their reputations and that of the parish priest she claims abused her, which she did not know about until the report came out.

The 2016 grand jury was put together after Stephen Baker, an athletic trainer and religious studies teacher at Bishop McCort and a Third Order Regular Franciscan brother, was accused of sexually abusing teens in multiple states, including dozens at Bishop McCort. Baker died by suicide in 2013, a few days after being named in legal settlements out of Ohio, which led to several McCort students coming forward alleging wrongdoing.

Baker worked at McCort from 1992 to 2000 but had a continued presence at the school through the late 2000's, according to prior news reports.

Thomas Smith, Principal/Chief Administrative Officer of Bishop McCort directed any comment on the case to the diocese. Tony DeGol, Secretary for Communications for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, declined comment citing their long-standing policy of not discussing pending litigation.


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