When Franciscan friar Stephen Baker took his life Saturday, the possibility of any criminal prosecution against him ended.
But adults who were aware of Baker’s abuse and failed to report it could face consequences, Cambria County’s top law enforcement officer said Wednesday.
District Attorney Kelly Callihan said she is seeking advice from the state Attorney General’s office on reporting laws and the statute of limitations in place more than a decade ago when Baker was a teacher at Bishop McCort Catholic High School.
“If the abuse alleged is as widespread as it appears to be, then I believe the criminal investigation should continue,” Callihan said.
Baker, 62, was living at St. Bernardine Monastery outside Hollidaysburg when he died of a self-inflicted knife wound to the chest. Several dozen men accuse him of molesting them when they were students at Bishop McCort in the early 1990s and early 2000s.
Callihan was not specific about how any possible investigation would proceed, but she urged anyone abused by Baker who has not come forward to do so.
Baker worked at Bishop McCort as a religion instructor and in the athletic department for about a decade. In the early 2000s, he was transferred for a couple of years to St. Bernardine. He then went to St. Joseph Friary in Hollidaysburg through 2009-2010.
At some point about two years ago, it is believed he again took up residency at the monastery. But he is not listed under any of the Franciscan monasteries from 2010 until now, according to BishopAccountability.org.
Former Bishop McCort students started coming forward two weeks ago following the announcement of a civil agreement with Baker involving 11 men who were students at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio.
The civil agreement involved allegations against Baker during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Baker worked at JFK before transferring to Bishop McCort.
Allegations from former Bishop McCort students portray a sense of common knowledge that Baker acted inappropriately with male students, especially some of the athletes.
Before Baker’s suicide Saturday, it was estimated that more than 50 men had contacted one of four attorneys regarding claims of molestation. Their allegations gave rise to speculation that the number of alleged victims could reach 200.
At the time of his death, the friar was said to be removed from any contact with children and living at the monastery, where he served as the cook.
Baker wrote a brief apology for his actions in a single-page note found by investigators after his death, according to the Associated Press.
Two sources close to the story, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the note was not an apology to the boys Baker allegedly molested, but rather to church officials.
Blair County Coroner Patricia Ross did not return telephone calls seeking information about the note.
The Philadelphia district attorney’s office successfully prosecuted the most senior U.S. Catholic clergyman last year for endangering the welfare of a child by transferring child-molesting priests among unsuspecting parishes.
Monsignor William Lynn was sentenced in August to three to six years in prison for covering up child abuse by priests in Philadelphia, according to published reports at the time.
Lynn worked for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in a role similar to personnel director for 800 priests. A jury convicted him of one count of endangering the welfare of a child.
He was acquitted of a second child endangerment count and conspiracy.
Lynn served in the oversight capacity during the 1990s through 2003, about the time Baker allegedly was molesting boys at Bishop McCort, which then was an Altoona-Johnstown diocesan high school.
In 2008, Bishop McCort moved out from the diocese umbrella and now operates as an independent school.
Greensburg attorney Susan Williams, representing three of Baker’s alleged victims, last week filed a notice of a pending civil lawsuit. The notice named as defendants Bishop McCort Catholic High School, the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, the Third Order Regular Franciscans and the Youngstown (Ohio) Diocese.
Attempts by SNAP – the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests – to research Baker’s background show he worked for another diocese prior to transferring to JFK.
From 1983-1985 he was at St. Mary’s Prep School in Orchard Lake, Mich., SNAP’s Judy Jones said in an email Wednesday.
She is unaware of any molestation claims against Baker by St. Mary’s students.
SNAP held a rally outside the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Detroit, urging the bishop there to reach out to anyone who may have seen, suspected or suffered abuse by Baker.
In 1977, Baker worked at the James Barry-Robinson School and Home for Boys, SNAP said.
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