The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

October 11, 2013

Abuse deals near

— Out-of-court settlements in civil action by former Bishop McCort High School students who allege sexual misconduct by  a former teacher are pending in a number of cases, while notice of lawsuits in others have not been filed.

Altoona attorney Richard Serbin told The Tribune-Democrat Friday that some of the seven lawsuits he has filed in Blair County court regarding Brother Stephen Baker likely will not require the filing of full civil complaints.

“We are in discussions. The defendants would prefer to resolve these rather than litigate them,” he said.

Three or four cases are in the works and notices of pending lawsuits have not been filed, Serbin said.

Baker, a Franciscan friar, worked at the Johnstown school from the early 1990s until about 2000 as a religion instructor and in the athletic department.

Allegations by dozens of former students surfaced in early January following news of a financial settlement with about a dozen former students of a Catholic school in Ohio where Baker taught.

Later that month, Baker took his own life at the St. Bernardine Monastery outside Hollidaysburg, where he had lived for a number of years.

Serbin was contacted by a number of the alleged victims, and he began filling notices of pending lawsuits several months ago.

Last week, Blair County President Judge Jolene Kopriva issued orders that Serbin must file complaints in five of the cases because it has been more than 120 days since the notice of lawsuit was filed.

She gave Serbin 30 days to file details in the cases or she would dismiss them.

Serbin said he informed Kopriva of the settlement negotiations and is confident the cases will not be dismissed.

Serbin names as defendants the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular; the monastery where Baker lived; the Rev. Robert D’Aversa of Mount Dora, Fla., who was in charge of the monastery when Baker was at Bishop McCort; the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and former Bishop Joseph Adamec; and Bishop McCort.

A statement issued Friday by current diocese leader, Bishop Mark Bartchak, confirmed the negotiations and the willingness to reach settlements.

“The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and attorney Richard Serbin have been working to  amicably resolve complaints of alleged abuse at the hands of Brother Stephen Baker,” Bartchak said in a statement.

“The parties believe it would be in everyone’s interest to devote time and resources to resolving the claims as opposed to engaging in formal litigation.”

He added that he is optimistic that a fair and appropriate resolution can be reached.

The victims and the years they attended Bishop McCort have not been named.

Kathy Mellott is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.

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