The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


February 4, 2013

George Hancock | Sad tale of two scholastic institutions

— Once again, our region is rocked by a news story that defies credibility. This sad tale shares many aspects with current best-selling thriller novels. It also shares striking similarities with the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.

Allegations have surfaced about a former teacher and athletic trainer at Bishop McCort Catholic High School. Franciscan Brother Paul Stephen Baker was part of the McCort community for nearly a decade. Apparently he came to Johnstown after troubling incidents emerged from his former school in Ohio.

Baker left Bishop McCort for reasons not fully understood.

For 40 years, I’ve been an early-morning runner, setting out before dawn and after reading The Tribune-Democrat. Reading the news gives me something to mull, to dissect or to analyze on my quiet runs. The news about Brother Baker and Bishop McCort are indeed troubling.

I graduated from Bishop McCort High School in 1971.

I attended school at 25 Osborne St. from the 1967 through 1971. Those high schools years occurred in a different era. The world has changed dramatically since my scholastic days.

School shootings, the pressure to excel on standardized tests, severe budget constraints, child abuse and sexual molestation issues are just so prevalent today.

Perhaps one of the most troubling issues is why no one speaks up or reports questionable activities by faculty or staff members.

The Tribune-Democrat recently editorialized about this problem. The editorial “Many questions, few answers” (Jan. 27) described this puzzling situation.

I pondered during a Sunday morning run, didn’t we learn anything from the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State crisis? I kept rehashing the news accounts. I asked myself, who knew what when? It is unconceivable that school authorities were never notified about possible criminal misconduct. Or, if they were, why wasn’t something done? The words cover-up crossed my mind.

The Bishop McCort/Brother Baker situation is unsettling. Imaginations run wild when information is not forthcoming. Hopefully, Bishop McCort’s internal review will shed light and answers on this perplexing episode.

Meanwhile, questions are asked, gossip is spread and fanatical theories are expounded.

Conspiracy theorists are extremely excited or perhaps concerned about the recent death of Baker. Did Baker really die from a self-inflicted knife wound? Or, was Baker killed in retribution for his heinous crimes? Or, was Baker killed to silence him?

Conspiracy activists have trouble accepting common sense and the simple truth.

Baker was facing numerous new sexual molestation allegations. He was also dealing with issues related to the recent civil lawsuit settlements from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown and students at the John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio. The 24/7 news coverage, the societal pressure, the intense scrutiny was just unbearable. So, Baker opted out with his drastic measure.

The other morning, during a wet run, another troubling thought surfaced: What if we receive no answers to our numerous questions concerning Baker? What happens if someone did learn something from the Jerry Sandusky incident? But, what they learned is not used for the common good. Instead, evidence, the answers, mysteriously disappears. Documents are misplaced. The answers are muddled. The truth is whitewashed.

We need an independent investigation into this entire Baker incident. Perhaps the Cambria County district attorney should appoint a panel to research the allegations. An independent investigation is the only way to answer our questions.

Bishop McCort is an outstanding institution. Alumni by the thousands have made a difference in our world. Yet, just like at Penn State, one man acting on his base needs has soiled that institution.

Definitive answers cast soothing light on our sad tale.

Our winter season has entered the transitional phase. The sun is higher. Our days grow longer. Hope, the promise of a warmer season grows.

The morning runner continues his journey toward the spring road-racing season.

Few will remember the scholars, the athletes, the great students who roamed those two hallowed campus grounds. The names Jerry Sandusky and Brother Paul Stephen Baker now share the limelight.

This is a sad tale.

George A. Hancock of Scalp Level Borough is an occasional contributor to the editorial page.

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