Bishop: Diocese working toward resolving suspected abuse claims

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Efforts are being made to resolve pending cases of suspected child abuse involving the late Brother Stephen Baker, the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese said Friday.

In response to Judge Jolene G. Kopriva’s recent order giving Altoona attorney Richard Serbin 30 days to file complaints detailing the allegations, Bishop Mark L. Bartchak revealed the ongoing effort.

“The parties believe that it would serve everyone’s interest to devote time and resources to resolving the claims as opposed to engaging in formal litigation,” Bartchak said. “We are optimistic that we can continue to work together to reach a fair and appropriate resolution.”

The pending lawsuits stem from alleged abuse at the hands of Baker, who served at Johnstown’s Bishop McCort High School as an athletic trainer in the 1990s. Baker was a Franciscan friar who was living at St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg when he committed suicide Jan. 26.

He was the subject of child abuse investigations in Ohio, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. Kopriva, in her recent order, noted that more than 120 days have passed since Serbin filed notices of pending lawsuits in five of seven cases.

Her order, a routine action often used to keep court cases moving, states that complaints in those cases must be filed within 30 days.

In the alternative, if a resolution is reached, Serbin could notify the court of that achievement.

Serbin, who has been involved in child abuse cases against the diocese for the past 25 years, teamed up earlier this year with Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian in filing notices of pending lawsuits by former McCort students. Notices of three pending lawsuits were filed in February.

Four more were filed thereafter, the last one on Sept. 18.

The alleged victims in the pending lawsuits are listed as John Does.

The named defendants include: The Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular; St. Bernardine Monastery; the Very Rev. Robert D’Aversa of Mount Dora, Fla.; in charge of the monastery when Baker was at Bishop McCort; the Diocese of Altoona- Johnstown, its bishop at that time, Joseph Adamec; and Bishop McCort High School.