New friar abuse suit coming

Blair County attorney Richard M. Serbin has filed notice of a sixth lawsuit involving child sexual abuse allegations against Brother Stephen Baker, a Franciscan friar who once was an instructor and a coach at Johntown’s Bishop McCort High School.

The notice of legal action, called a praecipe, also bears the name of attorney Mitchell Garabedian of Boston, who obtained a national reputation for his fight against child sexual abuse by clergy in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston.

Serbin has filed five prior notices this year on behalf of alleged victims of Baker.

He said Thursday that there are other possible victims of Baker for which notices have not been filed, but he said it was necessary to file the notice in the case this week because the statute of limitations was nearing, which would have barred legal action.

Serbin said he could not reveal details of the abuse concerning of the case, filed under the name John Doe 80, at this time.

He said discussions are under way to resolve the many cases stemming from the investigation into Baker’s activities when he served in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown during the 1900s.

Because of the ongoing discussions and possible resolution of many cases, Serbin said he doesn’t know if it will be necessary to file notices of additional lawsuits.

All of the potential lawsuits involve the same defendants, including the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular, Province of the Immaculate Conception, the Very Rev. Robert D’Aversa, the director of St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg, the Diocese of Altoona Johnstown, retired Bishop Joseph V. Adamec and Bishop McCort Catholic High School.

Serbin said the defendants are represented by three to five attorneys. For instance, the local diocese and Adamec are represented by one attorney, while others represent the friars and Bishop McCort.

The local Baker case emerged late last year after a settlement was announced involving former students at a Warren, Ohio, high school who said they were abused by Baker. That news resulted in some former Bishop McCort students to allege they also were abused by Baker.

Baker committed suicide at St. Bernadine Monastery on Jan. 26.

The lawsuit notices filed by Serbin in the Blair County Courthouse are all known as John Doe, with numbers 75-80.

In March, Serbin said Baker inappropriately touched students at Bishop McCort for sexual gratification.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.