Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown halts talks in abuse lawsuits

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EBENSBURG, Pa. — Efforts to resolve claims made by alleged victims of abuse by the late Brother Stephen Baker have been put on hold pending the outcome of a criminal investigation currently underway by the office of the state attorney general.

In a brief statement the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown announced late Friday that the negotiations have been halted.

“It would be inappropriate for the diocese to proceed with the civil matters while the attorney general’s office investigation is active,” Tony DeGol, diocese secretary of communications, wrote in an email.

Baker, a Francisician friar, worked at Bishop McCort Catholic High School from 1992 until about 2001 as a religion teacher and part of the athletic department.

Allegations of his abuse of students at Bishop McCort surfaced in early January 2013. Baker, who had been living at a monastery outside Hollidaysburg, committed suicide later that month at the age of 62.

In early 2013, a handful of civil lawsuits were filed in Cambria and Blair counties on behalf of the alleged victims, naming the diocese, the Franciscans and others.

Altoona attorney Richard Serbin, who is representing many of the victims, said Friday the diocese’s decision will likely change things.

To date, 88 people have claimed abuse by Baker while he was at Bishop McCort, Mr. Serbin said. The announcement comes days before a scheduled mediation session in front of a former federal magistrate in Philadelphia.


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