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January 29, 2013

Coroner: Friar apologized in suicide note

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A Franciscan friar accused of molesting students at Bishop McCort and a school in Ohio decades ago had stabbed himself in the heart after leaving a note apologizing for his actions, a coroner said.

The note left by Brother Stephen Baker, whose body was found Saturday at the St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg, was “not addressed to anyone specific,” Blair County Coroner Patricia Ross said.

“The note was an apology for his behavior,” Ross said without offering specifics about the note which was just a few lines.

Baker, 62, was named Jan. 16 when the Youngstown, Ohio, diocese announced 11 legal settlements stemming from his alleged abuse of students at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, three decades ago.

Since then, Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney involved in the Ohio cases, said former Kennedy students have come forward to allege abuse by Baker.

Garabedian and other attorneys said about 20 former students at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown also have come forward with similar accusations against Baker, who was a teacher and trainer with the school’s baseball team. The former Pennsylvania students allege that Baker assaulted or molested students under the guise of providing therapeutic treatment or medical care for sports injuries, said Michael Parrish, the Johnstown attorney representing some of those students.

Baker taught and coached at Kennedy from 1986 to the early 1990s and was at Bishop McCort from 1992 to 2000.

The Altoona Mirror first reported the note’s contents on Tuesday. Ross didn’t immediately return a message left by The Associated Press

Father Patrick Quinn, the head of Baker’s order, the Third Order Regular Franciscans, has said it’s not clear what impact, if any, the death would have on the claims that have surfaced.

In the Kennedy case, mediation settlements involved the school, the Third Order Regular Franciscans and the Youngstown diocese, which said it was unaware of the allegations until nearly 20 years after the alleged abuse.

Youngstown Bishop George Murry said Monday that when he was informed sometime in 2011 about the alleged abuse at Kennedy, he called Franciscans and was told Baker had already been removed from public ministry to keep him away from children.

Because of statute of limitation issues, the cases were resolved without criminal charges or lawsuits, Garabedian said.

It was not immediately clear what may become of the Pennsylvania allegations. One attorney representing three alleged victims has already filed a notice that she intends to sue Bishop McCort, the Altoona-Johnstown diocese which used to run the school – it’s now guided by a nonprofit board – and Baker’s order. Bishop McCort’s board has also announced it is investigating the students’ claims.


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