The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

January 27, 2013

Many questions, few answers | Bishop McCort embroiled in allegations

JOHNSTOWN — There are a lot of troubling questions that have arisen over the past two weeks about a Franciscan brother who taught at Bishop McCort Catholic High School from 1992 through the early 2000s.

As of now, many of those have gone unanswered.

We’re afraid that, once revealed, the answers regarding Brother Stephen P. Baker might be even more disturbing.

Baker, who now lives at the Motherhouse of St. Bernardine Monastery of the Franciscan Friars Third Order Regular near Hollidaysburg, was accused of sexually molesting boys at the Warren, Ohio, high school where he taught in the 1980s. The school, diocese and Friars reportedly negotiated settlements with 11 of his accusers there.

Shortly after those media reports reached Johnstown, men started coming forward to say that Baker had done the same to them while he was at Bishop McCort.

Five former Crimson Crushers initially came forward, and Greensburg attorney Susan Williams filed a notice in county court on Thursday that a civil lawsuit is being filed on behalf of Victims No. 1, 2 and 3.

But the number of alleged victims could be much, much larger than that, according to a New England attorney who has been getting calls from former Bishop McCort students.

“There are hundreds of victims at McCort, based on my experience, since 1995,” Mitchell Garabedian told The Tribune-Democrat’s Kathy Mellott. “They span 15 years, and some of those may be within the statute of limitations (for criminal prosecution.)”

There are plenty of questions about what happened after Baker came to Johnstown.

They include:

-- Did any teachers or administrators at Bishop McCort know about Baker’s alleged actions while he was still employed by the school? If so, did they immediately come forward?

-- When did Baker stop working at Bishop McCort and why?

-- Was Baker a certified athletic trainer? If not, why was he allowed to perform duties associated with the position?

-- What did Baker do after he left Bishop McCort? Has he had any access to young people since leaving the school?

Bishop McCort administrators have ordered a voluntary internal review and investigation of the misconduct allegations and have hired Kathleen A. Gallagher and the Pittsburgh-based law firm of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott to conduct the investigation.

The Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown has been very quiet thus far. Bishop Mark Bartchak said through his spokesman that he was made aware of the allegations in November 2011, and he contacted civil authorities and advised the individuals who brought the information to do the same.

“Bishop Bartchak did not make any public statement about the case because he was assured that civil authorities would conduct an investigation into the matter,” diocese spokesman Tony DeGol said.

For him to comment on an ongoing investigation would not have been appropriate, DeGol said.

We understand the reluctance to speak out about the allegations at this point, but we do hope that those associated with Bishop McCort will be as forthcoming as possible with information and cooperate fully with the investigation.

The students, alumni and supporters of Bishop McCort deserve to have their questions answered.

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