The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

November 12, 2013

Criminal case can proceed

EBENSBURG — Action in Cambria County court stopping the lawsuit filed on behalf of alleged victims of Brother Stephen Baker has no impact on the investigation underway by Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan.

The decision to drop the lawsuit is a civil initiative, while the role of Callihan and her staff looking into the Baker case is a criminal matter.

In late October, Callihan confirmed that she is asking the state attorney general’s office to undertake an investigation into Baker and allegations by former students of Bishop McCort High School.

Baker, a Franciscan friar who worked at the school from 1992 to 2001, died in late January at a monastery in Blair County in what was ruled a suicide. He was 62, and his death came weeks after word of a settlement between 11 of his victims and a Catholic diocese in Ohio.

The news prompted dozens of former Bishop McCort students to contact lawyers alleging they had been abused by Baker, who taught religion at the school and was part of the athletic department.

Notices of lawsuits were filed in Cambria and Blair counties, stopping the clock on the statute of limitations. While full complaints have not been filed, the action opened the door for out-of-court settlements.

No financial agreements have been reached to date.

Baker’s death ended any criminal charges against him.

But it did not stop a criminal investigation into who was aware of Baker’s actions and failed to let authorities know under the state’s mandated reporting law.

“Baker’s death ended any probe into him, but there are reporting issues and residual matters that remain active,” Callihan recently told The Tribune-Democrat.

In late October, Callihan was briefed on an investigation conducted on behalf of the Bishop McCort board of directors and said then that there is sufficient information to warrant a more intense look at the people who may have been aware of the abuse.

She is asking the office of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane to take over the investigation because it involves the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and crosses the boundarys of multiple counties.

In 1991, a law went into effect making it a crime for an adult considered a mandated reporter to fail to contact authorities if he or she is aware of sexual or physical abuse or neglect of a person under age 18.

With that law in mind, the Baker case has similarities to the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal at Penn State.

“The focus in Sandusky was on mandated reporters and who and why or why not they followed the law in reporting child abuse,” Callihan said.

Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.

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