As many as 15 former Bishop McCort students are alleging they were sexually abused more than a decade ago by a former instructor and sports trainer – and it may only be “the tip of the iceberg,” a victims’ advocate says.
Robert M. Hoatson, co-founder and president of a nonprofit charity that has been advocating for the alleged sexual abuse victims of Brother Stephen P. Baker in Ohio and Johnstown, held a press conference Saturday across from Bishop McCort Catholic High School on Osborne Street in the city’s 8th Ward.
“I think there are probably around 15 (victims) at Bishop McCort, and there could be as many as a dozen more who have not come forward,” Hoatson said. “We suspect it’s the tip of the iceberg. The attorneys are getting calls from the west, south and middle part of the country.”
Hoatson said victims from Bishop McCort became known after they called the two attorneys involved with the case, Michael Parrish in Johnstown and Mitchell Garabedian in Boston.
Parrish said he has spoken to men who claim they were victimized by Baker at McCort as recently as 2002. The former students say Baker abused them when he was supposed to be treating them for sports-related injuries.
Baker was employed at Bishop McCort from 1992 into the early 2000s.
Hoatson said he doesn’t see sexual abuse cases until the victims are in their 30s or 40s because they can’t come forward due to the shame and embarrassment.
“Catholics are taught deference to clergy,” Hoatson said. “Abuse is something that is lifelong. The abuser creates a tragedy as soon as it happens. The whole family is abused. When the victim’s children reach the same age they were when they were abused, they’re hyper-vigilant.”
Hoatson, who heads Road to Recovery Inc. based in Livingston, N.J., said he suffered similar sexual abuse when he was a teen. He founded the organization as therapy for himself.
“My therapist told me the best thing I could do is help other sexual abuse victims,” Hoatson said. “My salvation has been getting involved. I get so excited and energized because it takes amazing courage for them to talk about it in front of thousands through the media.”
Michael Munno of Lorain, Ohio, accompanied Hoatson on his trip to Johnstown.
For Munno, the trip is therapeutic. He is one of the 11 men from the Diocese of Youngstown who came forward to report alleged sexual abuse by Baker. The accused friar now resides at the Motherhouse of St. Bernardine Monastery of the Franciscan Friars Third Order Regular outside Hollidaysburg.
Munno, now 40, attended John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, from 1986 to 1990, when Baker was an athletic trainer, coach and teacher there.
“I wouldn’t be able to do this without a support group,” Munno said.
Road to Recovery Inc. counsels sexual abuse victims and helps them through media sessions and press conferences.
“The attorneys do the legal stuff, but there’s so much more to recovery,” Hoatson said. “We help them pay for therapy, medications, food and shelter. The mantra I hear from sexual abuse victims is ‘I thought I was the only one.’”
Hoatson held another conference near JFK High School on Wednesday with two of the original 11 victims present.
At the conference, the settlement between the Diocese of Youngstown, the Franciscan Friars and JFK High School was revealed for the first time.
“It was made in October 2012,” Hoatson said. “There was no release of the amount the victims got, but it was in the high five figures.”
Hoatson said one of the Ohio victims is contemplating filing criminal charges because he was younger than the other victims at the time.
Road to Recovery requests that all alleged sexual abuse victims of Baker come forward confidentially to begin healing and receive support.
The organization will call on the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown to reveal what it knows and when it knew about Baker and accusations of sexual abuse against him from students and alumni of Bishop McCort.
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