The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 23, 2013

Where’s he been?: SNAP traces path of accused friar

JOHNSTOWN — An advocacy group aimed at bringing greater accountability to Catholic church leaders in dealing with child sexual abuse by priests is mapping where Brother Stephen Baker has been during the past three decades and pushing to make sure he has no access to children.

Much of the background of Baker, a Franciscan friar, remains a mystery.

That has led to speculation that incidents of his alleged abuse of children – particularly boys – may reach into the hundreds, said Judy Jones, a St. Louis resident who works with SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests).

Especially disconcerting, she said, is the past decade since Baker, a brother with the Franciscans, left Bishop McCort High School.

“What if he has not been kept away from kids since 2002?” Jones asked Wednesday as she met with reporters in front of the Johnstown Police Department.

“What has he been doing since then?” she asked. “Was he in a treatment center and did he have access to kids?”

Information published by a Catholic directory shows that Baker is living at the St. Bernadine Monastery.

Operated by the Franciscans, it is about two miles from Hollidaysburg.

The time frame that has emerged shows Baker likely moved to the monastery after leaving Bishop McCort in the early 2000s.

News of the alleged abuse by Baker while at McCort for about a decade, from the early 1990s until possibly 2002, surfaced last week. An out-of-court civil settlement then was reached with 11 people he allegedly victimized while at John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in Warren, Ohio.

More alleged victims have surfaced from JFK, and a yet-undetermined number have contacted two attorneys in this region and one in Boston regarding alleged abuse while they were students at Bishop McCort, Jones said.

Baker, believed to be 61 or 62, worked at the Johnstown school as a religion instructor and an athletic trainer. He also was a baseball coach.

Jones said research by SNAP and others revealed allegations of abuse at St. Mary’s Middle School in Warren, a feeder school for JFK.

A search into Baker’s background shows he also worked at the Barry Robinson Home for Boys in Norfolk, Va. No allegations of sexual abuse by former students of the Virginia school appear to have surfaced against Baker.

Jones said SNAP intentionally chose the city police department to conduct its press conference.

She urges that child abuse by priests be reported by children and their parents to law enforcement authorities – not the local priest or diocese officials.

“Report it to the police department or even the sheriff’s department. Don’t go to church officials,” Jones said.

SNAP is concerned about Bishop Mark Bartchak’s handling of allegations against Baker by former Bishop McCort students.

Bartchak became bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown after transferring from the Erie Diocese to replace the retiring Bishop Joseph Adamec in April 2011.

Bartchak said through his spokesman that he was made aware of the allegations in November 2011, and he contacted civil authorities and advised the individuals who brought the information to do the same.

“Bishop Bartchak did not make any public statement about the case because he was assured that civil authorities would conduct an investigation into the matter,” diocese spokesman Tony DeGol said.

For him to comment on an ongoing investigation would not have been appropriate, DeGol said.

Bartchak was assured by Baker’s religious supervisor that Baker has been removed from the ministry and is living under supervision with no contact with minors, DeGol wrote in the statement.

“Bishop continues to encourage any individual who has been harmed to contact civil authorities,” DeGol wrote. “The bishop will cooperate fully in any investigation regarding this matter.”

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