The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 22, 2013

Lawyer: More telling of abuse

Kathy Mellott

JOHNSTOWN — A New England attorney said he is getting calls from men alleging they were sexually abused by Brother Stephen Baker, the Franciscan brother who taught at Bishop McCort High School from 1992 through the early 2000s.

Mitchell Garabedian of Boston told The Tribune-Democrat that  he is bracing for a large number of alleged victims, perhaps topping a couple of hundred.

“There are hundreds of victims at McCort, based on my experience since 1995,” Garabedian said. “They span 15 years, and some of those may be within the statute of limitations (for criminal prosecution.)”

While Garabedian would not cite specific numbers of victims who have stepped forward, Robert Hoatson, a victims advocate, said Saturday as many as 15 former McCort students are alleging sexual abuse at the hands of Baker, a number he termed as the “tip of the iceberg.”

That is in addition to 11 men from the Warren, Ohio, area who reached a settlement of undisclosed terms announced last week with the Diocese of Youngstown. That abuse by Baker allegedly took place at the John F. Kennedy High School where he served before moving to Johnstown.

Baker, said to be 61 or 62, is now living at St. Bernardine Monastery, two miles outside of Hollidaysburg. He no longer has contact with children, according to officials of the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, who learned of the abuse of McCort students in November 2011.

Hoatson, founder and president of Road to Recovery of Livingston, N.J., said Tuesday that while most of the boys Baker abused were in high school, two boys in grades 6 through 8, students at St. Mary’s Middle School, a feeder school for the Kennedy high school, also were molested.

One of the St. Mary’s victims was among the original 11. Another has come forward since, Hoatson said.

“(Baker) used the football facilties at JFK to molest the boys,” Hoatson alleged.

Baker served as a religion instructor and sports trainer at McCort.

Johnstown attorney Michael Parrish said Baker used his authority and molested the boys under the guise of rubdowns and physical therapy treatments for sports injuries.

Parrish also has interviewed a number of alleged victims.

But the abuse was often more open, Garabedian said.

“Brother Stephen Baker had no boundaries, and he wasn’t supervised properly,” the Boston lawyer said. “He was open and notorious for grabbing children’s private parts in the hallway and in the religion classroom.”

Garabedian said he is hearing that Baker also molested boys in his van, especially when he would take them to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Garadedian said he is concerned about who is watching Baker now and preventing his access to children.

“Pedophiles do not sexually stop until they are stopped,” he said.

The attorneys are taking a wait-and-see stance as victims continue to come forward.

The possible criminal prosecution of Baker is a big question mark.

The statute of limitations is coming close to expiring for the McCort students allegedly abused by Baker in the early 2000s, according to information provided by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.

Coalition spokeswoman Kristen Houser said changes in state law expanded the window for criminal prosecution of a child sex offender to the victim’s 50th birthday. But the much wider window is not retroactive to about a decade ago when the law changed.

Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan declined to say whether she has been approached by any of the alleged victims who have come forward, but said she has been in contact with a local law firm that is talking to them.

“We don’t file charges. We prosecute them,” she said. “Bishop McCort is in the jurisdiction of the Johnstown Police Department, and I would encourage anyone who feels they were a victim of these acts to reach out to the Johnstown Police Department.”

The McCort victims likely would be handled on a case-by-case basis depending on the time span of the abuse, the age of the boy and the degree of the abuse, Callihan said.

Advocates are pushing for the state Legislature to eliminate limits to prosecution, she said.

“Offenders normally begin offending in their teen years and they continue until there is some kind of intervention,” Houser said.

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