The investigation into abuse allegations against Brother Stephen P. Baker is broadening.
An unknown number of men, former students at Bishop McCort Catholic High School, are alleging they were sexually molested by the Franciscan friar, who worked at the Johnstown school for about a decade in the 1990s and into the early 2000s.
The former students say Baker abused them when he was supposed to be treating them for sports-related injuries.
Baker who now resides at the Motherhouse of St. Bernardine Monastery of the Franciscan Friars Third Order Regular, located in a rural setting about two miles outside of Hollidaysburg. From 1992 into the early 2000s, he was employed at Bishop McCort as a religious instructor and sports trainer.
Word of allegations against Baker surfaced this week in reports out of Warren, Ohio, that settlements had been negotiated with 11 men who attended John F. Kennedy High School there in the late 1980s. They allegedly were sexually molested by Baker when he worked there as a baseball coach, religious teacher and athletic trainer.
By late Friday, at least 17 former JFK students had made sexual abuse claims against Baker.
Closer to home, at least five former McCort students alleged to a Youngstown, Ohio, television station that they had been molested by Baker.
The number is expected to grow considerably, according to a Johnstown attorney who has spoken to some of the alleged victims.
“We’re in the very early stages of our investigation. We’re trying to determine what claims exist and who is responsible,” attorney Michael Parrish said. “We’ve been approached by a number of young men.”
While Parrish did not disclose the number of men he has spoken to, he indicated this initial response likely is just the beginning.
“I can tell you that I believe there are a lot more than five (alleged victims),” he said.
In a statement Thursday, Bishop Mark Bartchak of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown said “inappropriate contact with minors” that involved Baker in the late 1990s “came to his attention” in November 2011, about seven months after Bartchak was installed as the eighth bishop in diocese history on April 19, 2011.
That information was never made public, but Bartchak, in his statement, said he reported it to civil authorities and advised the individuals who brought him the information to immediately contact authorities.
It it could not be immediately determined whether any of the alleged victims went to authorities.
Bartchak said he was assured by Baker’s religious superior that he has been removed for all ministerial activities, remains under supervision and has no contact with minors.
Most troubling to the men who are opening up, Parrish said, are the tricks Baker allegedly used to molest them.
“What was relayed to them as therapeutic treatment was just a ruse for sexual molestation,” he said.
While Parish did not disclose details involving the alleged victims, WKBN-TV, Youngstown’s CBS affiliate, reported talking to five of the Johnstown men, some of whom gave details similar to methods used on the Ohio victims.
The men described Baker as a man they respected. Along with his instruction and training duties at McCort, he coached junior varsity baseball and other youth baseball teams not affiliated with the school, WKBN reported.
With some, he would touch their genitals and digitally penetrate them under the guise that he was treating sports injuries, according to the television news report.
In Pennsylvania, digital penetration is classified as involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, a first-degree felony.
The men told the television station that Baker would at times call them to a training room and have them remove their clothing. He then would massage their bodies, including genitals, the television station reported.
Parrish said he has spoken to men who were victimized by Baker at McCort as late as 2002.
While information provided by the Bishop’s Accountability Project shows Baker left McCort in 2000, Judy Jones of SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) said the dates come from Catholic directories provided by church officials.
“It is very possible that Baker was still there (at McCort) in 2002,” Jones said.
Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.
Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.