Victims urged to come forward

YOUNGSTOWN – Bishop of Youngstown George Murray said Thursday that diocese officials did not announce terms of a settlement with victims of a Franciscan order brother who once coached at Warren John F. Kennedy High School because they believed the order’s headquarters in Pennsylvania would do so.

Because they did not and the allegations against Brother Steven Baker were made public last week, Murry said in a news conference from the diocese’s offices that they are asking for anyone who may have been a victim of Baker to contact civil authorities and the police.

No criminal charges were filed against Baker, and the statute of limitations has run out.

A message left Thursday with the Franciscan administration was not returned.

Murry also said he and JFK President Brian Sinchak will write letters of apology to the 11 men who reached a settlement with the Franciscans and the diocese in October over the abuse, which occurred between 1986 and 1990, when Baker was a baseball coach and the 11 victims were members of the teams.

Since the settlement was announced last week, at least six other former JFK students and several students from Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, Pa., where Baker went after he left Kennedy, have claimed they too were abused by Baker.

Baker is a friar of the Third Order Regular based at St. Bernardine’s monastery in Hollidaysburg, Pa. He has declined to comment on the issue.

Murry said he would meet with the 11 individually if they wish and apologize to them personally for the harm that was done.

”I am deeply sorry for the pain which the victims of Brother Baker endured while at John F. Kennedy High School,” Murry said. ”Brother Baker betrayed the trust which these young men placed in him as a spiritual leader.”

Murry said the diocese decided not to announce anything after the settlement negotiations because lawyers for the diocese did not want to go public at the time because the negotiations were at a sensitive stage.

Robert Hoatson, leader of the group New Jersey-based Road to Recovery, which helps victims of clerical abuse, said that diocesan officials should have known about the abuse because of the way it was talked about among the people who were involved.

”They had to know something was going on there,” Hoatson said.

The Boston-based attorney for the victims, Mitchell Garabedian, said that the bishop’s statements were hollow because he did not apologize to the victims. But Murry did read an apology to the victims in a statement before he took questions.

Garabedian first notified the diocese in 2009 that he was investigating claims of abuse about Baker and the settlement was officially signed in October. That was the first time the diocese had heard of the allegations, Murry said. After they found the allegations to be credible, they contacted the Trumbull County Children Services Board for more investigation.

Murry said a larger reason was that they thought the Franciscans would make the announcement. Baker was not an employee of the diocese but of the order, and was recalled to the headquarters in Pennsylvania because of declining numbers in the order and a desire by them to consolidate operations because of that.

Murry said the order paid 70 percent of the settlement and the diocese paid 30 percent. He said the diocese agreed to the settlement ”because we believed the allegations were credible” and took part in the negotiations to help the healing process. He also said no confidentiality agreement was signed or requested by anyone involved.

While the exact terms of the settlement were not announced, Garabedian has said it was in the “high five figures” for each of the 11 men.

Murry said the diocese takes extensive steps to make sure clergy and employees are trained in how to deal with abuse and that people know to report it. He urged anyone who may have been abused by an employee or member of the clergy to contact the diocese and police.

A group that represents victims of clergy abuse has alleged this week that there are other cases of abuse unrelated to Baker in the diocese. Murry said he knows of no other allegations but will investigate if any are known.

”We can only act on what we know,” Murry said.

All allegations are immediately reported to police, victims are offered pastoral or professional counseling and the person accused is placed on a leave of absence until it can be determined if the allegation is credible, Murry said. A panel made up of several lay people including a retired police detective with experience in family issues meets to review the evidence and decide if the allegations are credible, Murry said.

Murry said the actions of a small minority of people like Baker erode the credibility and trust of the church and he and others have work to do to restore that trust.