Friar allegedly abused boys

BRACEVILLE, Ohio – Two men who said they were abused in the mid-1980s by a Franciscan brother who was a baseball coach at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, and is now living in Blair County, said they have come forward in the hope they can encourage other abuse victims to get help.

The two spoke Wednesday at a news conference in Ohio after they and nine others settled claims against the school, the Diocese of Youngstown and a branch of the Third Order Regular of the Franciscan Friars in October.

The two men said the sexual abuse at the hands of Brother Stephen Baker took place mostly when they played baseball for the high school where Baker was the coach and trainer for the program.

When reached at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday at St. Bernardine’s, he told Tribune news partner WYTV 33 that he was shocked when told of the accusations.

“I’m flabbergasted,” Baker said. “I’ll have to ask my superiors if I can say anything.”

For years afterward, as his alleged crimes against those students went unreported, Baker, a Franciscan friar based in Hollidaysburg, had a presence at Altoona and Johnstown Catholic schools.

Baker’s presence among area youth includes his role on the Bishop McCort High School baseball team in the late 1990s and mid-2000s.

He also served in 1998 on the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown’s Confirmation Committee, which developed confirmation preparation guidelines.

Baker is a friar of the Third Order Regular based at St. Bernardine’s Monastery in Hollidaysburg, where he is believed to be living.

“Brother Stephen has and continues to be removed from all public ministry and is living under supervision in which he has no contact with minors,” the Rev. Patrick Quinn T.O.R. wrote in a statement.

“The Province encourages anyone who has been harmed by Br. Stephen Baker or any of its members to contact the Minister Provincial [Quinn],” he wrote.

Of the 11 cases settled in Ohio, 10 are no longer under the criminal statute of limitations but another one is, and that victim is deciding whether to file charges criminally, an attorney representing the men said.

The Catholic Diocese of Youngstown said in a written statement Wednesday that it became aware of sex abuse allegations against Baker about two decades after the alleged abuse at the school.

”Neither the diocese nor John F. Kennedy High School had any knowledge of the allegations of abuse while Brother Baker served the school,” the written statement said.

”Although the abuse is said to have occurred prior to 1991, the allegations were not reported by the former students to the school or the diocese until nearly 20 years later,” the diocese’s written statement said. The diocese said it then reported the matter to Trumbull County Children Services.

Spokesman Tony DeGol of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown said Baker is not a diocesan priest and his case is not being handled by the local diocese.

Baker sexually abused 11 JFK students as many as 25 times each, according to President Robert Hoatson of Road to Recovery, a nonprofit organization that provides emotional, psychological, financial and spiritual assistance to survivors recovering from sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

Hoatson said Baker used his position as coach, trainer and teacher at JFK to sexually abuse the students from 1986 through 1990. He said the abuse occurred in the athletic trainer’s room, school hallway, Baker’s classroom and on trips to Columbus and Virginia.

The victims have not been identified.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian said the 11 victims settled for ”five figures” each and he has since been contacted by a 12th victim. The case never reached a courtroom and was settled through arbitration over four days last summer.

”But this isn’t about the money. This is about closure and about clients that have to heal,” Garabedian said.

Garabedian has represented more than 1,000 sexual abuse clients who have been victimized by clergy members.

Meanwhile, a former Warren John F. Kennedy student who played baseball for Baker said that in hindsight it appeared that the clergyman would prey on student-athletes without father figures in their lives.

”I don’t view this as anything like a Jerry Sandusky situation, but I was aware of highly unacceptable touching,” said the former student who spoke on the condition that he not be identified. ”He was taking advantage of children who may not have been getting the attention at home.

”If someone was injured, it was like a standing joke that coach would send you to the whirlpool,” the former student added.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly contributed to this story.