Attorney: Papers will be served in abuse case

ALTOONA, Pa. – The Diocese of Youngstown, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, the Third Order Regular Franciscans and Bishop McCort Catholic High School will likely be served today with a notification of a coming civil lawsuit on behalf of victims who say they were abused by a Franciscan friar.

Greensburg attorney Susan Williams said a writ of summons that she filed in Cambria County Court last week on behalf of three men who say they were victims are claiming negligence on the part of the institutions. The Blair County and Cambria County sheriff offices mailed notifications on Saturday, Williams said.

A spokeswoman for the Youngstown Diocese did not return a phone call seeking comment on Tuesday.

Altoona-Johnstown Diocese spokesman Tony DeGol said he “cannot speak about the case any more because of pending litigation.” He could not confirm whether the diocese has been served a notice.

Brother Stephen Baker is accused of abusing boys he coached at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren from 1986 to 1990, and then at McCort in the 1990s. He worked at the schools as a teacher and athletic trainer.

Baker committed suicide Saturday morning at St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg, where he lived. In a letter found in his room at the monastery, Baker apologized to the church, Blair County Coroner Patty Ross said.

There were also sealed envelopes in the room, one addressed to a family member and another addressed to a priest, Ross said. She could not say how many sealed envelopes Baker left behind, nor could she verify that any of the letters appeared to be marked for victims.

“I don’t believe so,” she said.

Former John F. Kennedy student Michael Munno – who was one of 11 men who reached an out-of-court settlement in October over allegations of abuse by Baker – said he has not received a letter and did not expect one.

He is the only one of the 11 who has revealed his name publicly.

Attorneys representing others who claimed abuse said they were not aware of any of their clients receiving one of the letters that authorities found in Baker’s room.

Ross said Deputy Coroner Brian Reidy, who responded at the scene, said there was evidence that Baker had been thinking about suicide since the beginning of January.

Attorneys say victims continue to come forward since Baker’s suicide.

“Numerous victims are continuing to contact me from Ohio and Pennsylvania,” Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian said.

Garabedian said adults at both schools “didn’t do their jobs,” in supervising Baker.

“Abuse happened in hallways. Other children saw it. Why didn’t adults see it?” he said.

The Youngstown Diocese last week said it wants to make sure any victims receive all necessary help and wants to take steps to keep any such thing from happening again.

“We work with everyone, even those out of state and their therapists, to make sure they get the help they need,” Nancy L. Yuhasz, chancellor, said.

Bishop McCort has hired a Pittsburgh law firm to conduct an internal investigation of the alleged abuse in an “attempt to help any victims of abuse associated with these allegations receive a level of closure and resolution to this painful chapter of their lives,” according to a statement released last week from the school.

Blair County attorney Richard Serbin is now representing 13 former Bishop McCort students, with one more coming forward since Baker’s suicide.

Williams is the first attorney to send defendants a legal notice. She said she has gained three more clients since Baker’s suicide.

Garabedian is representing more than 30 alleged victims, about half of them former Bishop McCort students. He previously represented 12 alleged victims in Ohio for whom a settlement was reached.

“This was an emotionally complicated situation before Baker passed away. It’s been even more emotionally complicated because of his committing suicide,” Garabedian said.

Victims have mixed emotions, he said.

“Many of them did not want Baker to pass away. They would have liked to hear his explanation for what he did,” Garabedian said

The defendants have two likely options once served with the writ of summons, Williams said – to reach out and contact her to discuss a resolution or to request through court that she put together a complaint with specific allegations.

Tribune Chronicle writer Virginia Shank contributed to this report.

O’Reilly writes for the Altoona Mirror.