Diocese: Friar accused in 2011

HOLLIDAYSBURG – The Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown said on Thursday that there were allegations raised in 2011 against a Franciscan friar accused of sexually abusing students of an Ohio high school in the late 1980s.

The local diocese issued a release stating that in November 2011, Bishop Mark L. Bartchak became aware of accusations that Brother Stephen Baker had inappropriate contact with minors in the diocese in the late-1990s.

Baker was an instructor and staff member of Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown during that time.

On Wednesday, it was announced that a settlement has been reached with 11 men who accused Baker of sexually abusing them in Ohio between 1986 and 1990.

Tony DeGol, Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown spokesman, said he did not know how many local victims there may be.

Baker is residing at St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg, after having been removed from public ministry “long before” 2010, according to the Rev. Patrick Quinn.

Rev. Quinn became the monastery’s minister provincial that year.

In 2011, when Bartchak received the information, the release stated, he “immediately reported it to the appropriate civil authorities, and he advised the individuals that brought the information to his attention to immediately contact civil authorities.”

At that time, Bartchak was assured by Quinn that Baker had been removed from all ministerial activities.

The monastery is under a separate governance than the diocese.

On Thursday, five more former students of John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, claimed they were abused by Baker between 1986 and 1990.

The Bishop McCort Board of Trustees has approved its solicitor, attorney D.C. Nokes of Johnstown, as the school’s legal counsel and spokesman regarding Baker’s service at the school in the late 1990s.

Quinn declined to answer when and how the monastery became aware of accusations against Baker, but he said he monitors Baker’s actions daily and said Baker has no contact with minors.

No criminal charges have been filed against Baker, a member with the Third Order Regular Franciscan Friars.

Except for some involvement at Bishop McCort High School, Baker has had no confirmed role at the diocese’s other Catholic schools in the region – Bishop Carroll in Ebensburg and Bishop Guilfoyle in Altoona.

“The abuse of minors at any time and place is wrong and can never be excused,” Bartchak stated in the release.

The release stated Bartchak continues to pray for all those who have been harmed, and he remains committed to providing appropriate assistance to victims.