Attorney: Adults ‘drunk with power,’ enabled abuse

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has obtained settlements of $95 million for more than 120 victims of priest sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston, said many of his current clients – alleged victims of Brother Stephen Baker – believe adults were aware of the alleged abuse and are at fault for allowing it to continue.

He said coaches must have known about the senseless treatments that Baker prescribed as athletic trainer – for example, a full body massage and naked dip in the whirlpool for an ankle sprain. He said teachers should have seen Baker touch students in hallways as he allegedly did.

“The adults were drunk with power, and also influenced by religion – thinking priests could do no wrong,” he said. He added that they were concerned with “taking care of reputations.”

However, a different perspective was offered by Michael Munno, one of 11 former John F. Kennedy High School student athletes for whom Garabedian recently won settlements as a result of abuse by Baker in the late 1980s. The school is in Warren, Ohio.

Coaches knew players were going into the training room with Baker, Munno told the Mirror Thursday, but he said he doesn’t think they knew of the abuse Baker was trying to pass off as treatment.

“I highly doubt it. They were all fathers; if they knew what was going on with students in their teenage years, then they would have stopped it,” Munno said.

Baker worked in at least five states, each with a different diocese: Richmond, Va.; St. Paul-Minneapolis; Detroit; Youngstown, Ohio, and Altoona-Johnstown.

Why Baker was transferred from Michigan to Ohio to Pennsylvania is a question that needs to be answered, Garabedian said.

In Johnstown, the Bishop McCort Board of Trustees placed principal and former head football coach Ken Salem on administrative leave on March 1.

The trustees have given no reason for the decision, but Salem’s attorney George Bills of Pittsburgh released a statement that their decision was unjust and Salem had no knowledge of Baker’s alleged abuse.

Bills did not return the Mirror’s calls on Thursday.

On Thursday, Garabedian said almost all of his clients have no doubt that adults knew Baker was sexually molesting children.

Alleged victims from Bishop McCort seeking help from the New Jersey charity Road to Recovery are hesitant to say which adults knew about the abuse, said Bob Hoatson, co-founder and president of the charity that provides spiritual, financial and psychological assistance to survivors of clergy abuse.

“All say adults knew, but they are very hesitant to tell me who, because they have had good influences on them,” Hoatson said.

The alleged abuse also occurred in hallways and classrooms where Baker taught religion, Hoatson said.

“He put his hands on the small of your back and gently moved down and give you a one-two-three tap,” Munno said.

In the sports world, it’s not uncommon for coaches to slap players on the buttocks, and Hoatson is familiar with that custom.

“I personally don’t like that- but it’s not abuse,” Hoatson said.

Baker’s touching in the hallways and classrooms is much different -“Grabbing a handful of cheek,” Hoatson said.

He said alleged victims told him adults minimized the significance of Baker’s actions.

“They always said ‘he’s just horsing around,” Hoatson said.

While students took tests in his classroom, Hoatson said, Baker would visit another classroom and ask to see a student.

“The teacher should have said ‘no,'” Hoatson said. “But because he was a clergy member, they said ‘OK.'”

In his classroom while his students tested, he set the student’s desk close to his and touched them inappropriately as he spoke.

The student would not move for fear of drawing the attention of the his test-taking peers, Hoatson said.

Garabedian said he has more than 60 clients among Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The victims were allegedly abused between ages 13 to 18, and more than half of those clients are former McCort students, he said. He said the alleged abuse occurred from 1992 to 2005.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.