At Pa. school, local man tells of abuse

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Speaking outside Bishop McCort Catholic High School on Saturday morning, a former Ohio Catholic school student detailed the alleged locker-room sex abuse that dozens of men have now accused Hollidaysburg, Pa., friar Stephen Baker of committing throughout his career.

Michael Munno of Cortland – now a father of two, married 17 years – said Baker’s sexual tastes were a running joke among boys at his alma mater, John F. Kennedy High School in Warren.

“It was a daily joke in the locker room: Don’t get injured, or you’ll go to the training room,” he said.

Munno was one of two men who anonymously told their stories on Wednesday during a news conference in Braceville. Munno revealed himself publicly on Friday in newspaper and television interviews in the Tribune Chronicle offices.

More than 35 people, including at least one woman, have contacted attorneys with accusations stemming from Baker’s work in Ohio and at Bishop McCort, Robert Hoatson, president of Road to Recovery, a sex-abuse survivors’ group, said.

On Saturday morning, Bishop McCort student-athletes and their families looked curiously at the knot of TV cameras and reporters outside their school as Munno told his story there.

With him was Hoatson, who wore a sign reading, “Children must have a voice.”

Baker now lives at St. Bernardine Monastery near Hollidaysburg, Pa. He has declined to comment on the accusations on the advice of an attorney, a monastery superior said. He has not been criminally charged in the matter. Initially, he said he was flabbergasted when he told of the allegations on Wednesday.

JFK, the Youngstown Diocese and the Third Order Regular Franciscan Order settled the potential civil lawsuit in October with the 11 students against Baker through Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian. The men said they were abused by the Franciscan brother between 1986 and 1990.

Munno said it was in JFK’s small training room that Baker, an athletic trainer and coach, is accused of abusing many of his alleged victims, including fondling them while supposedly giving post-workout massages.

Munno said Baker groomed him for abuse in the late 1980s, befriending him before ninth-grade and accompanying him on a group trip to Virginia. While the abuse was widely known, nobody reported it to the authorities for years, he said.

“They’re trained to show deference to religious authority,” Hoatson, a former Roman Catholic priest, said.

Since the settlement was announced last week – an amount was not given but was said to be in the ”high five figures” for each of the 11 accusers – dozens more alleged victims have contacted attorneys, including some in unrelated clergy abuse cases, Hoatson said.

None involve alleged crimes in the Altoona area, he said. Nevertheless, Hoatson questioned whether Baker had been allowed to leave the monastery where he’s lived for years.

“Why wasn’t the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese telling the community that there was a serial pedophile roaming around Hollidaysburg and Newry?” Hoatson said Saturday.

Diocese spokesman Tony DeGol said Thursday that the case is outside the diocese’s jurisdiction, as Baker is not an area priest.

Baker no longer has contact with minors, the monastery’s head, the Rev. Patrick Quinn, said last week.

Munno and Hoatson said they expect more alleged victims, in both Johnstown, Pa., and Ohio, to come forward in the coming days. The new accusations could lead to possible criminal charges, they said, noting that Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations is less restrictive than Ohio’s.

“I’m sure there will be an outpouring,” Munno said.

Brown writes for the Mirror in Altoona, Pa.