Wed., 1:46pm: UPDATE-7 Two victims speak out

BRACEVILLE – Two men who said they were abused in the mid-1980s by a Franciscan brother who was baseball coach at John F. Kennedy High School said they have come forward in the hope they can encourage other abuse victims to get help.

The two, who did not want to be publicly involved, spoke at a news conference this afternoon at the Holiday Inn Express.

The two said the sexual abuse took place at the hands of Brother Stephen Baker and that most of the abuse took place when they played baseball for the Eagles and Baker was also the coach and trainer for the program.

The two men and nine others settled claims against the school, the Diocese of Youngstown and a branch of the Franciscan Order in October after a series of meetings in Cleveland in August.

Of the 11 cases, 10 are no longer under the criminal statute of limitations but another one is and that victim is deciding whether to file charges criminally, an attorney representing the men said.

The Catholic Diocese of Youngstown said in a written statement this morning that it became aware of sex abuse allegations against Baker about two decades after the alleged abuse took place at Warren John F. Kennedy High School.

“Neither the diocese nor John F. Kennedy High School had any knowledge of the allegations of abuse while Brother Baker served the school,” the written statement says.

“Although the abuse is said to have occurred prior to 1991, the allegations were not reported by the former students to the school or the diocese until nearly 20 years later,” the diocese’s written statement says. The diocese said it then reported the matter to Trumbull County Children Services.

Baker sexually abused 11 JFK students as many as 25 times each, according to President Robert Hoatson of Road to Recovery, a nonprofit organization that provides emotional, psychological, financial and spiritual assistance to survivors recovering from sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

Baker is believed to be residing at the St. Bernardine Monastery in Newry, Pa. When reached today, Tony DeGol, secretary for communications of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, said, “We have been told by the Order that he has been removed from the ministry and is under supervision.”

DeGol noted that Baker is not a diocesan priest and his case is not being handled by the diocese.

Hoatson said this morning that the 11 victims, all males, settled a lawsuit in October with the Franciscan order of the Immaculate Conception based in Philadelphia, the Diocese of Youngstown and JFK over the claims against Baker.

Hoatson said Baker used his position as coach, trainer and teacher at JFK to sexually abuse the students from 1986 through 1990. He said the abuse occurred in the athletic trainer’s room, school hallway, Baker’s classroom and on trips to Columbus and Virginia.

Hoatson said one victim came forward to Road to Recovery. The victim was suspicious that there were others and, according to Hoatson, the other 10 men later came forward.

The victims have not been identified.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian said this morning that the 11 victims settled for “five figures” each and he has since been contacted by a 12th victim. The case never reached a courtroom and was settled through arbitration over four days last summer.

“But this isn’t about the money. This is about closure and about clients that have to heal,” Garabedian said.

Garabedian has represented more than 1,000 sexual abuse clients who have been victimized by clergy members. He was portrayed in a 2005 Showtime movie entitled “Our Fathers,” with Ted Danson playing the attorney.

Meanwhile, a former Warren John F. Kennedy student who played baseball for Baker said this morning that in hindsight it appeared that the clergyman would prey on student-athletes without father figures in their lives.

“I don’t view this as anything like a Jerry Sandusky situation, but I was aware of highly unacceptable touching,” said the former student who spoke on the condition that he not be identified. “He was taking advantage of children who may not have been getting the attention at home.

“If someone was injured, it was like a standing joke that coach would send you to the whirlpool,” the former student added.

A press conference is scheduled for 12:15 p.m. Hoatson, who is based in Livingston, N.J., is expected to attend.