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February 8, 2013

Friar volunteered at Mount Aloysius: College officials: No reports of abuse

— The late Brother Stephen Baker, the Franciscan friar accused of molesting male students at Bishop McCort Catholic High School more than a decade ago, spent time as a volunteer at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson after he left his employment at the Johnstown Catholic high school.

Meanwhile, people from the community are coming forward with information that Baker was around the Bishop McCort campus after he no longer worked there as a religion instructor or with the athletic department, an attorney handling a number of the alleged victims said Friday.

The Catholic private college confirmed Friday, in response to questions posed by The Tribune-Democrat, that Baker served as a volunteer baseball scorekeeper from the 2007 through 2010 seasons and briefly through the 2011 season.

In a statement, Mount Aloysius officials said they never have received any reports of alleged abuse by Baker and they have contacted the office of Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan about his volunteering at the college.

“Mount Aloysius officials expressed dismay that the college was never informed of previous allegations regarding Brother Baker; and it is clear that his movements were not adequately monitored by his supervisors after they knew of his previous abuse,” the statement read.

Baker, 62, was residing at St. Bernardine Monastery outside Hollidaysburg until two weeks ago, when he died of a self-inflicted wound to the heart.

Allegations of sexual abuse by Baker began surfacing from a number of former Bishop McCort students about three weeks ago. He worked at what was then a school of the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown from the early 1990s through the early 2000s.

The local allegations followed the announcement that 11 men, former students at John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in Warren, Ohio, had reached out-of-court settlements with the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown over alleged abuse by Baker.

Since that time, claims of sexual abuse by Baker from former students at St. Mary’s Middle School, a feeder school for JFK, and Catholic schools in Detroit and Minneapolis have surfaced.

In their statement Friday, Mount Aloysius officials said that Baker did not supervise practices or coach while volunteering at the college.

He never attended a practice or game without significant presence of other Mount Aloysius coaches and officials, according to the statement.

He did not act as a trainer and the college did not have training facilities, restrooms or even dugouts at the baseball fields at that time, the statement said.

In addition, a college spokesman, in responding to a question by The Tribune-Democrat, said Baker wore street clothes rather than clerical robes while he volunteered.

“The college did its investigation and did not find any abuse perpetrated here by Baker,” according to the statement. “However, all those interviewed were encouraged to take any action necessary for their personal well-being.”

Attorney Richard Serbin of Altoona, who represents a number of the alleged victims from Bishop McCort, said information provided to him shows Baker was involved at the school after he no longer was on the payroll.

“It appears Brother Baker was involved with Bishop McCort, although unofficially, after he left as teacher/trainer,” Serbin said.

A representative of SNAP – the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests – finds it hard to understand why Baker was allowed to move about so openly even after word of his abuse would have reached this area.

Documentation provided by SNAP earlier this week showed a 2005 out-of-court settlement reached between a victim and the Archdiocese of St. Paul  & Minneapolis for abuse by Baker.

“It gets sicker by the minute,” said SNAP’s Judy Jones.

“They knew in 2005 in Minnesota and they promised he would never be around kids again,” she said.

Baker should not have been allowed to volunteer at Mount Aloysius, she said, because even though the students may have been young adults, there are plenty of vulnerable young adults.

“It’s not over yet – it’s just beginning,” Jones said. “What blows my mind is so much has come out in less than a month.”

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