WARREN - Michael Munno says someday he'll be able to forgive the Franciscan brother he claims sexually abused him in high school.
The Cortland man decided to make his identity known Friday in an effort to help others who have suffered through sexual and other kinds of abuse.
Munno said he knows that to heal he needs to forgive Brother Stephen Baker, who is accused of abusing at least 11 athletes at John F. Kennedy High School in the mid-1980s.
Michael Munno says some day he’ll be able to forgive the Franciscan brother he claims sexually abused him in high school. The Cortland man spoke Friday at the Tribune Chronicle.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
''The only way to get over this is to forgive the person who did that to me,'' Munno said. ''I'm not quite there yet but I'll get there.''
He spoke Friday at the offices of the Tribune Chronicle along with Tribune newspartner WYTV 33 News, describing what he said happened during those years in the late 1980s.
"If you were injured, you would be taken to the training room. If you had a quadricep muscle that was injured, back muscle, shoulders, whatever, you were usually asked to strip down, regardless of the place that was injured," Munno said.
Children Services official says board received letter
By RAYMOND L. SMITH
WARREN - Trumbull County Children Services Director Tim Schaffner reported receiving on Friday a copy of an April 14, 2010, letter sent to its attorney from the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown that outlined the allegations against Brother Stephen P. Baker.
Schaffner on Thursday told the Tribune Chronicle that children services did not have any record that it had been contacted by the diocese about Baker or claims that he molested students at the Catholic high school.
Baker, a brother in the Franciscan order, was a teacher, coach and trainer at Warren John F. Kennedy High School from 1986 to 1991. On Wednesday, 11 men came forward claiming they had been sexually assaulted by Baker while they were students at the school.
Earlier this week, the diocese reported that it had sent information to children services.
Nancy Yuhasz, a spokeswoman with the diocese, said its attorney, Mary Beth Houser of Newman, Olsen & Kerr, sent a confidential letter to Craig Neuman, who represented the Trumbull County Children Services Board in 2010.
She did not talk about the details of the letter.
"I did not say they did not send a letter," Schaffner said. "I said we could not locate it. We will continue to look for the original document."
Schaffner said the copy of the letter he received Friday identified Baker as a suspect and the allegations against him.
"It did not ask us to take any specific actions, nor would I have expected it to," he said.
Schaffner said the letter indicated that Baker was out of state. He does not know if the agency ever sent the information to the Trumbull County Prosecutor's Office.
Schaffner, however, reiterated that because the victims were adults when the information was provided to children services in 2010, the agency could not, by statute, conduct an investigation.
No criminal charges were ever filed against Baker, but the school, diocese and Third Order Regular Franciscans reportedly settled with the men for an undisclosed amount of money.
Since Wednesday, an additional six men locally have claimed they too were victimized by Baker, as have men in the Altoona, Pa., area. Baker has been living in St. Bernardine's Monastery in Newry, Pa.
He said the players all joked about Baker and that closet-sized training room.
"You have a hangnail? Your pants are coming down. Everything was related to that vicinity. We all joked about it," Munno said, adding that joking made it seem more acceptable.
Munno spoke Wednesday with another former classmate who did not wish to be identified. The pair are part of 11 men who claim they were abused by Baker while they were student-athletes for the Eagles from 1986-90, when Baker was the coach and athletic trainer at the school. Boston-based attorney Mitchell Garabedian settled the 11 men's case for an undisclosed amount of money, though it's been reported to be in the "high five figures" apiece.
Since then, at least six more former JFK students have come forward saying they were victims of Baker; several students at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, Pa., say they experienced abuse at the hands of Baker as well.
Baker taught religion and worked as a trainer for the baseball team at the Pennsylvania school in the late 1990s.
The claims in Warren were settled without a criminal trial because of a statute of limitations preventing a victim from filing charges once he or she reaches the age of maturity. The Pennsylvania statute of limitations for child sex abuse prohibits filing civil suit 12 years after a victim's 18th birthday. However, criminal charges may be filed up to the victim's 50th birthday.
Robert Hoatson of the organization Road To Recovery, a group that works with victims of clerical abuse, is expected to hold a news conference today in Johnstown. Road To Recovery also worked with some of the victims in the JFK case.
The Diocese of Youngstown, JFK and a representative of the Franciscan Order reached a settlement with the original 11 in October. The settlement was revealed this week. The diocese has said it first learned of the allegations a few years ago.
Munno said he went through a lot of guilt and shame before he started to seek help. He said he was having problems in his marriage and he was abusing several substances. He also said he was angry.
''In pretty much every relationship I was a closed off individual,'' Munno said.
After learning of the Bishop McCort allegations, Munno said he feels guilty he did not speak while the abuse was happening because that was where Baker served after JFK.
''That's the biggest thing that weighs heavily on me,'' Munno said.
Munno said he has received more than 250 texts from friends and family members since the settlement was announced and almost all of them have been supportive.
''It's been quite chaotic,'' Munno said.
He said he understands how some people would be upset or leery because it took so long for the abuse to be revealed.
''Everybody's entitled to their opinion,'' Munno said.
As for the settlement, he said the money is not ''life changing.''
Munno said he would advise anyone who was abused to come forward so they begin healing. He said he carried what was done to him around for 20 years and it was not easy. When he told his wife and parents, he said it was a big relief.
''A lot of guilt lifted off my shoulders,'' he said.
Although the original 11 were first contacted in 2009 by an attorney, Munno said they tried to hire a local attorney three years earlier to help them, but that attorney did not want to take their case. Munno said he did not know why.
Tribune Chronicle newspartner WYTV 33 contributed to this report.