Two more notices in Baker case

HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. – An Altoona, Pa., attorney has filed two additional notices of lawsuit against officials of the Roman Catholic Church and Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown, Pa., stemming from sexual abuse allegations against the late Brother Stephen Baker.

Attorney Richard M. Serbin filed the summons in the Blair County Courthouse.

The victims were identified as John Doe 78 and John Doe 79, pseudonyms for McCort students allegedly abused by Baker when he served as an instructor at the school in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Serbin filed three John Doe summons on Monday. He said Thursday he was still reviewing case files and that other notices of lawsuit, called summons, would probably be filed.

The 62-year-old Baker stabbed himself to death in January after reports surfaced over the past few months that he was accused of abusing many young boys at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, where he served before leaving Ohio and going to the Altoona area.

John Doe 78 is from Pennsylvania, but his case was referred to Serbin by Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has been representing child sexual abuse victims for many years. In 2002 and 2003, Garabedian obtained settlements of $95 million for more than 120 victims of priest sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Serbin has pursued priest abuse cases throughout Pennsylvania on behalf of victims since 1988.

Officials of the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown were not available to discuss the lawsuit notices on Thursday.

Earlier this week, Pittsburgh attorney Eric Anderson, who has represented the local diocese in many sexual abuse cases in the past, said he has not seen the summons filed by Serbin but he indicated the first step in the process may be to bring the cases before the Diocesan Allegation Review Board.

Serbin said the review board was established several years ago to examine allegations of sexual abuse brought against priests and church officials.

The process was set up around 2004 and 2005, he said.

Alleged victims first meet with the diocesan victim advocate and then go before the review board, which includes lay people and professionals. Serbin said the board makes recommendations to the bishop regarding the validity of the allegations.

He said he has had many clients go before the review board, but he was not permitted to accompany them, noting the church didn’t want the proceedings to turn adversarial.

The Blair County, Pa., Sheriff’s Office will serve the summons to the named defendant in the civil lawsuits: the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular; Bishop McCort; the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown; Bishop Emeritus Joseph V. Adamec; and the Very Rev. Robert D’Aversa, who was in charge of St. Bernardine’s Monastery where Baker lived.

The legal documents now on record in Hollidaysburg are only notices that legal action is pending. They do not relate the specifics or what happened to each alleged victim.

Ray is a reporter with the Altoona-Mirror.