Diocese gets lawsuit letter

YOUNGSTOWN – The Diocese of Youngstown confirmed it has been notified of a potential civil lawsuit on behalf of victims who say they were abused by a Franciscan friar.

Nancy L. Yuhasz, chancellor, said the matter has been turned over to the attorney representing the diocese.

“There’s really not a lot to say at this point,” she said. “There’s nothing to comment on at this point. It’s basically letting us know there could be a lawsuit.”

The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, the Third Order Regular Franciscans and Bishop McCort Catholic High School also were to be served with similar notices this week.

Altoona-Johnstown Diocese spokesman Tony DeGol told the Tribune’s sister paper in Altoona, the Altoona Mirror, that he “cannot speak about the case any more because of pending litigation.” He could not confirm whether the diocese has been served a notice.

Greensburg, Pa., attorney Susan Williams said she filed a writ of summons in Cambria County Court last week on behalf of three men who say they were victims of former teacher and athletic trainer Brother Stephen Baker. The men are claiming negligence on the part of the institutions. The Blair County and Cambria County sheriff’s offices mailed certified notifications on Saturday, Williams said.

“Now it’s up to them,” Williams said. “We’re just waiting for a response.”

She explained that the defendants have several options once served with the writ of summons. The parties involved can meet and try to resolve the matter outside the courtroom. The defendants can request through court that she put together a complaint with specific allegations. If they pursue that option she would have 20 days to present them with the complaint.

“Or they can do nothing,” Williams said. “If they don’t do anything and I don’t do anything else it could just sit there indefinitely. But that won’t happen. If they don’t respond I will file the lawsuit. But I really expect that they will want to meet.”

Baker is accused of abusing former students while he was working at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren from 1986 to 1990 and then at McCort in the 1990s. He committed suicide Saturday morning at St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg, Pa., where he lived. In a letter found in his room at the monastery, Baker apologized to the church, the Blair County Coroner’s Office confirmed.

Coroner Patty Ross said there were also sealed envelopes in the room including one addressed to a family member and another addressed to a priest. She could not confirm how many sealed envelopes Baker left behind, but said it did not appear that any of them were for the victims.

No criminal charges were filed against Baker. However, earlier this month Cortland resident Michael Munno and an unnamed victim participated in a news conference announcing a settlement had been reached with the Youngstown diocese and the Third Order Regular Franciscans.

The terms of the settlement have not been released, except that each of the 11 victims were receiving “high five figure” payouts.

Attorneys representing some of the victims said that since then dozens of Baker’s former students have come forward, including many after his suicide, claiming he sexually abused them. The Youngstown diocese last week said that it wants to make sure victims receive all necessary help and wants to take steps to keep any such thing from happening again.

Bishop McCort has hired a Pittsburgh law firm to conduct an internal investigation of the alleged abuse. Blair County attorney Richard Serbin is now representing 13 former Bishop McCort students, with one more coming forward since Baker’s suicide.