Sex abuse claims building against friar
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A Franciscan friar from Cambria County has been accused of molesting dozens of teens in at least three states, including more than 25 at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown in the 1990s.
Brother Stephen Baker, 62, has been restricted to Franciscan facilities since he was banned from ministry after an initial complaint from Minnesota in 2000, said the Rev. Patrick Quinn, minister provincial of the Franciscan Friars (Third Order Regular) of the Immaculate Conception Province in Hollidaysburg. Last week, after an attorney for 11 victims in Warren, Ohio, announced an earlier settlement of civil suits, more than 25 former McCort students contacted at least four attorneys.
Johnstown attorney Michael Parrish represents 20 of them. "I can tell you from the clients that I have spoken to that 20 is just the tip of the iceberg," he said Friday.
The board of Bishop McCort has hired Kathleen Gallagher, a former Allegheny County prosecutor experienced with sexual assault cases, to do an internal investigation. Bishop McCort was a diocesan school until 2008, when it became independent.
The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown said it first heard an allegation against Brother Stephen in 2011 and took it to the police.
Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan confirmed that in 2011 the diocese took the allegation to the Johnstown police, who investigated. The police never sent a case to her office, but she learned of it because she inquired after recent news stories, she said. She said she couldn't speak for the police, but that the statute of limitations for child abuse in the 1990s is complicated, changing with the year of abuse, age of the victim and degree of abuse.
"I've been trying to encourage anyone who feels they were victimized to come forward. If it happened at the school in Johnstown, then the Johnstown police have jurisdiction," she said.
Johnstown police Chief Craig Faust was unavailable, according to his office.
Father Quinn, who became the Franciscan superior in 2010, said he didn't know whether his order had told school officials of the Minnesota allegation in 2000.
"It was a single event that occurred in Minnesota. It was not in a school. He was a friend of the [victim's] family. When we received that allegation in 2000, he was removed from Bishop McCort."
From 2000 to 2010 he lived under supervision at St. Joseph's Friary in Hollidaysburg and then at St. Bernardine Monastery in Newry, Blair County, Father Quinn said.
There are conflicting timelines for his years as a teacher, coach and athletic trainer at Bishop McCort. Many victims say he molested them in the guise of therapeutic massage to prevent or heal sports injuries.
The Ohio settlements were said to be in the high five figures each, with costs shared by the Diocese of Youngstown, John F. Kennedy High School in Warren and the Franciscans.
Greensburg attorney Susan Williams has filed notice on behalf of three victims. Mr. Parish is waiting.
"It's very early in our investigation. I'm not yet in a position to point fingers specifically at people or entities. There are definitely issues with respect to who knew what and when," he said.
First Published January 26, 2013 12:00 am