Brother Baker found dead
One of the 11 former John F. Kennedy students who claimed abuse by a former baseball coach said he was shocked Saturday to hear of the Franciscan brother’s suicide.
”It’s just a sad day,” Michael Munno said about Brother Stephen Baker, whose body was found Saturday morning in a monastery in Hollidaysburg, Pa.
Munno, of Cortland, said, ”Justice won’t be served. I had so many thoughts in my head.”
In a brief statement released by the Youngstown Diocese, Bishop George Murry said, ”Let us continue to pray for all victims of abuse, for Brother Baker’s family and the repose of his soul.”
Baker, 62, died of a self-inflicted knife wound at the St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg, where he was living, Blair Township Police Chief Roger White said. He declined to say whether a note was found.
Police were called to the monastery at 7:35 a.m. Baker’s body was removed around noon. An autopsy was conducted Saturday afternoon at Nason Hospital in Roaring Spring.
”This is tragic news,” said Robert Hoatson, head of the New Jersey based Road To Recovery, which helps victim of clerical abuse and has worked with some of the victims in the JFK case.
Hoatson said the victims have been brave and courageous in coming forward, and he said he hopes their healing can continue.
”They were in no way responsible for what happened in Pennsylvania. They must continue their healing.”
On Jan. 16, Munno and another man announced that they and nine other men reached a settlement in October with the Catholic high school in Warren, the diocese and and the Third Order Regular Franciscan Order over allegations of sexual abuse. They claimed abuse took place when they were members of the JFK baseball team between 1986 and 1990 when Baker was a coach and trainer, and told them they needed treatment for injuries.
Baker said after the news conference that he was ”flabbergasted.” He had declined comment since.
No criminal charges were ever filed locally, and the statute of limitations has run out in Ohio. Details of the settlement were not announced other than each of the 11 men received in the ”high five figures.”
Since Jan. 16, at least five other former Kennedy students have come forward and several students from Bishop McCort High School in Altoona, Pa., have alleged similar abuse.
Baker was at Bishop McCort from 1990 until 2000, again as a religion teacher and athletic trainer. He was removed from public ministry because St. Bernardine was made aware of an allegation involving a man who was allegedly abused by Baker in the 1980s.
Last week, Pennsylvania attorney Susan N. Williams filed a notice of intent to sue Bishop McCort, the Catholic dioceses of Altoona-Johnstown and Youngstown and the T.O.R. Franciscan Order on behalf of three unnamed plaintiffs. It is not known whether the complaint will still be filed.
In a news conference Thursday, Murry said the diocese did not know of the allegations against Baker until 2009. When they learned, they alerted the Trumbull County Children Services Board.
Tim Schaffner, Children Services executive director, said Jan. 17 that a search of department records did not turn up any such allegations about Baker. But because the victims would have been adults by that time, the case would not have fallen under its jurisdiction.
Murry said Thursday he would be writing the JFK victims personally to apologize and will meet with them personally if they wish.
He said that diocese officials did not announce terms of a settlement with victims because they believed the order’s headquarters in Pennsylvania would do so.
Bishop Mark Bartchak of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese said in a statement that he was saddened by the news of Baker’s death, but declined further comment citing pending legal action involving the diocese.
A message left for Father Patrick Quinn, the head of Baker’s order, was not immediately returned.
Judy Jones, assistant Midwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the organization still hopes people who know about other abuse allegations against Baker will continue to come forward.
“We feel sad for Brother Baker’s family but even sadder for the dozens of boys who Baker assaulted,” she said in a statement.
Attorney Richard Serbin said he was contacted in the past week to represent 12 young men who claimed they were victims of Baker in Pennsylvania.
Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian said earlier this week he was investigating 25 new claims against Baker in Ohio and Pennsylvania. He represented the 11 men in the original settlement.
“It is unfortunate that Brother Stephen Baker passed away,” Garabedian told the Altoona Mirror. “I will continue to investigate my clients’ claims and represent them with regard to negligence of Baker’s superiors. Many of my clients are saddened by the passing of Brother Stephen Baker.
“He’s a serial pedophile who probably molested hundreds of children,” Garabedian said.
The Rev. Bernard Schmalzried, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Warren, spoke of Baker’s death at Mass Saturday. He said the entire situation is hard to put into words.
”It’s very sad and hurtful for everyone,” Schmalzried said. ”There’s no simple explanation that will satisfy everyone.”
Schmalzried said people who are Christians need to look at the example Jesus set when dealing with people.
”Jesus is our model and we’re supposed to act like him,” Schmalzried said.
During an interview Jan. 18, Munno said he was working toward forgiving Baker to help his own healing process. Saturday, he said he was able to take that step after talking to someone at his church.
”I have forgiven him,” Munno said.
The Altoona Mirror and The Associated Press contributed to this report.