Suits might target diocese in Baker case

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Another chapter began Monday in the Brother Stephen Baker child sexual abuse case when Blair County attorney Richard Serbin filed notices of three lawsuits against the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and others in the Blair County Courthouse.

“There will be more suits,” Serbin said, as he explained that he is investigating many other potential court cases that have come to his attention.

Serbin said the first such cases to be filed in Blair County involve former students at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown who say they were abused by Baker. Serbin said Baker served in the local diocese from the mid-1990s to 2000.

Serbin filed writs of summons on behalf of the three individuals listed for court purposes as John Doe 75, John Doe 76 and John Doe 77.

Serbin has been representing alleged victims of priest abuse since 1988, when he filed a lawsuit against the diocese on behalf of an Altoona man who was sexually abused by his godfather, Father Francis Luddy.

Since then the Altoona-based attorney has filed many additional lawsuits not only against the local diocese but also against the Catholic dioceses in Allentown, Philadelphia, Greensburg and Pittsburgh.

He used the numbers 75, 76, and 77 to differentiate the newly filed notices of lawsuit from other John Doe lawsuits he has filed over the past years, not to represent the number of Baker victims, Serbin said.

The Associated Press reported Monday that about 50 more people have come forward who said they were abused by Baker in the Warren, Ohio, area, where he served before coming to Blair County.

The 62-year-old Baker stabbed himself to death a month ago while at St. Bernardine Monastery near Hollidaysburg, where he was living.

Serbin has asked that the Blair County sheriff serve notices of his lawsuits with the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular; St. Bernardine Monastery; the Very Rev. Robert D’Aversa of Mount Dora, Fla., who was in charge of the monastery when Baker was in the area; the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown; Bishop McCort Catholic High School; and retired Diocesean Bishop Joseph Adamec.

Adamec’s successor, Bishop Mark L. Bartchak, was not named in Serbin’s lawsuits because he was not in charge of the diocese or St. Bernardine’s when the alleged abuse occurred against McCort students.

The diocese is represented by Pittsburgh attorney Eric Anderson, who did not return a phone call seeking comment on Monday.

Serbin said he has “opened the door to discussions” with church officials to settle the cases out of court.

The notices filed Monday fall within the time frame of the statute of limitations.

It also gives the diocese the opportunity to request that Serbin file a lawsuit outlining the specifics of each alleged incident. Serbin said if the diocese took that path, he would have 25 days to file the lawsuits.

“Sadly, what occurred with Brother Baker is consistent with the pattern I have observed in the child molestation cases I have handled for over 25 years. Child predators have been transferred from one church or school to another, without concern for the harm to kids,” Serbin stated.

He said Monday that although Luddy has not been in the area for nearly 20 years, he is still working on a case in which an alleged Luddy victim has recently come forward.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.