The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 5, 2013

Bishop McCort: It’s time to move on

For The Tribune-Democrat

JOHNSTOWN — Editor’s note: The following was submitted to The Tribune-Democrat by the Bishop McCort Catholic High School Board of Trustees by Matt Beynon, a school spokesman. Board members, according to the school’s website, are: Bishop Mark Bartchak, Mark Pasquerilla, Jack Buchan, Mike Price, Lou Mihalko, Nicholas Antonazzo, Paul Helsel, Dan Hummel, Richard Kastelic, Joe Martella, Thomas McAneny, the Rev. David Peles, Linda Thomson and trustee emeritus Msgr. Thomas Mabon.

Until January 2013, the Bishop McCort Catholic High School Board of Trustees guided the school’s leadership team on many positive ventures, with our goal being to ensure that Bishop McCort is one of the area’s best educational facilities and spiritual institutions.

But in January, this board was placed in a totally different situation – making choices none of us ever imagined, with the ultimate goal of saving Bishop McCort.

The stories we have learned of those who may have been violated by Brother Stephen Baker are sickening and heartbreaking. The pain and emotional scars that the victims carry are beyond what many of us can ever imagine. These victims must be embraced by our entire school family and community.

But faced with such horror, some in our community have understandably chosen to deny these acts could have occurred, lashing out at members of this board or, in some sad instances, the victims themselves. The facts the alleged victims, their counsel, and – to a certain extent – this board know may never be revealed to the public at large.

While the unavailability of such information is rare in an age when private matters are splashed over the Internet or the ticker at the bottom of a cable news channel, the unavailability of the information in this case does not mean it does not exist or that it is not true. Such denial and the division that it causes are but one more casualty of the type of abuse perpetrated by Brother Baker and only adds to the pain which the victims and the community suffer. The time has come for the community to accept that it may never know that which it does not know, and begin the healing process. To do any less is to harm those who have already been victimized and undermine the future of Bishop McCort.

Editorial: There are still plenty of questions left to be answered

Even in the face of such adversity, Bishop McCort is stronger than ever. Despite the specter of the allegations against Brother Baker this spring, our students and administration kicked off successful inaugural events like the 5K FunD Run to support our athletic and fine arts departments. The established reputation of Bishop McCort continues to attract area families, and the incoming freshman class will be as large and as talented as any we have welcomed to our school. And with the help of generous community partners, the school’s fundraising is surpassing all of our hopes during these most difficult times.

More is needed from those of us who are committed to Bishop McCort’s future, though. This board has personally committed over $900,000 to the school’s capital campaign and scholarship funds for local students who otherwise would not be able to afford the school’s tuition. But we cannot do this alone.

We understand that this time can be frustrating for those McCort supporters who want to know more about the board’s internal investigation, and have withheld support as a result. But the board needs to ensure that any short-term easement of questions does not negatively impact the legal environment that will determine the long-term future of the school.

We are excited about the opportunities that await Bishop McCort and its students next year and in years to come. Our international program is expanded, providing opportunity to not just foreign students to learn in America, but our local students to learn with students from halfway around the globe. Our athletic programs remain extremely competitive on the playing field, annually competing for district and state titles. And, most importantly, our graduating classes consistently have over 95 percent attend post-secondary schools and universities – nearly 40 percent better than the state average.

The tradition and institution that is Bishop McCort is bigger than any one person’s despicable acts can dissolve. This tragedy may have struck at the core of who we are as a Catholic community striving to enrich our area with a Christ-centered message of charity and compassion. But we are taught that the Lord does not give us more than we can handle, and our bonds will be made stronger by this test.

Now is the time for the entire Bishop McCort family to stand as one, committed to the future of the institution that has been instrumental in defining Catholic education in western Pennsylvania for nearly a century. Join us in this effort for not just the school we all hold dear, but to support the hundreds of children in our community who benefit from Bishop McCort’s programs each year.

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