The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 25, 2013

Former McCort students allege abuse, plan lawsuits

Kathy Mellott
kmellott@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — An Altoona attorney filed notice of pending civil lawsuits in Blair County court Monday on behalf of three men, former students of Bishop McCort Catholic High School, who allege they were sexually molested by the late Franciscan Brother Stephen Baker.

The victims are identified in the  notice that the lawsuits are commencing as John Doe 75, John Doe 76 and John Doe 77. The abuse is alleged to have occurred at various times from 1992 to about 2001, when Baker worked at or was seen around the school.

Attorney Richard Serbin, a clergy sexual abuse civil litigator, said Monday’s filing in Blair County likely is just the beginning.

“I know I’ll be filing more. I’m certain I’ll be filing more,” he said. “I don’t think the dust has settled.”

Named as defendants in the civil suit are The Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular; Province of the Immaculate Conception; the Very Most Rev. Father Joseph Robert D’Aversa, T.O.R.; Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown; former Bishop Joseph Adamec; and Bishop McCort.

Tony DeGol, secretary of communications for the diocese, had little to say about the suit.

“If it’s pending litigation, I cannot comment,” he said.

Attorney Kathleen Gallagher, who is representing Bishop McCort, which became independent from the diocese in 2008, was out of the office Monday and could not be reached for comment.

D’Aversa was leader of the Province of the Immaculate Conception order during the years Baker worked for the diocese at Bishop McCort as a religion instructor and part of the athletic department, Serbin said.

“The lawsuits identify those individuals and legal entities who were responsible for placing Brother Stephen Baker in a position where he readily had physical access to students under the guise of being an athletic trainer,” Serbin said. “A position, which my investigation thus far reveals, (for which) he had no specialized training or qualifications.”

Serbin said Baker used his position as a trainer for his sexual gratification, to the detriment of countless students.

The Blair County filing comes about a month after Greensburg attorney Susan Williams filed a similar notice in Cambria County court for three former Bishop McCort students. Two weeks ago she added a fourth alleged victim.

Baker, 62, died Jan. 27 of a self inflicted stab wound to the chest. The suicide took place at St. Bernardine Monastery near Hollidaysburg as a number of alleged victims from Bishop McCort began stepping forward.

News of Baker became known in early January following the announcement of a civil settlement between 11 men, former students of John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, and the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown.

Baker worked at the Ohio high school and a middle school prior to coming to Bishop McCort.

In recent weeks, news of a settlement involving Baker and a man from St. Paul, Minn., has surfaced.

“Sadly, what occurred with Brother Baker is consistent with the pattern I have observed in the child molestation cases I have handled for over 25 years,” Serbin wrote in a statement. “Child predators have been transferred from one church or school to another, without concern for the harm to kids.”

Serbin said the numbers used to name the alleged victims were not an indication of the number of victims, but a way of distinguishing numbers given in other “John Doe” cases.

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