Fifty more accuse friar of abuse, group says
BY Jordan Cohen
At least 50 more men have come forward claiming sexual abuse at the hands of Franciscan Brother Steven Baker, the head of a support group for victims of molestation by clergy said Sunday.
Most of the accusers attended Warren’s John F. Kennedy High School and St. Mary’s Middle School from 1986 to 1990.
“We think the total is nearly 65, and that would make him one of the most prolific pedophiles in the history of the church,” said Robert Hoatson, a former priest who heads Road to Recovery, a New Jersey-based support group for victims of sexual molestation by priests and other Catholic clergy.
Baker committed suicide Jan. 26 shortly after the school, a Franciscan order and the Diocese of Youngstown settled with 11 male students who said they had been assaulted by Baker while he served as a sports trainer, baseball coach and religion teacher at JFK.
An attorney for the 11 described the settlement as in “the upper five figures.” Baker had been living at a monastery in Newry, Pa., when he killed himself.
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian said in Toledo on Sunday that the new accusers have alleged in recent weeks that they were abused between 1982 and 2007. Some said Baker abused them even after he left teaching in 2000 when he would attend school events in Johnstown, Pa., Garabedian said.
The latest allegations come from people in 12 states who went to school in Warren or were either middle school or high school students in Johnstown, where Baker taught and coached, Garabedian said.
Hoatson, who spoke outside Warren JFK High on Sunday afternoon, also alleged other sexual molestation incidents at JFK that led to staff or faculty dismissals even though he admitted that he cannot verify the allegations.
“There was knowledge of sexual abuse in this building,” Hoatson said. “I call upon Bishop George Murry [head of the diocese] to take accountability and responsibility…and to release all information about the firings of personnel.”
Diocese offices were closed Sunday and officials could not be reached to comment. The diocese, in a statement after the initial settlement, said neither it nor the high school “had any knowledge of the allegations of abuse while Brother Baker served at the school.”
However Hoatson said he has not asked for a meeting with the bishop. “We know how these meetings go, and this will go nowhere,” said the former priest who described himself as the victim of sexual abuse by a clergyman when he was young.
Hoatson, who revealed he was in the area to meet with another alleged victim of Baker’s, said he hopes his comments will lead to additional mediation with the diocese and the high school for the latest group of victims.
“I’m hoping all of the parties come to the table and begin the healing,” Hoatson said, adding that thus far none of the latest group of alleged victims has decided to go public and be identified.
The diocese, meanwhile, has sent letters to 1,200 adults who attended JFK from August 1985 to January 1992 and from January to June 1978 asking them to come forward if they were abused by Baker or have knowledge of sexual abuse.
One letter did not sit well with Barbara Aponte of Poland, who accompanied Hoatson to the news conference. Aponte attributes the suicide of her 26-year old son in 2003 to sexual abuse by Baker. Her son, Luke Bradesku, attended JFK from 1990 to 1994.
“I received a letter for my son (from Bishop Murry) apologizing for what happened in one paragraph and then in the next denying responsibility,” she said. “They didn’t know they were sending the letter to a dead student.
“It was insulting and difficult,” she said as she sobbed.
Aponte said she resents allegations that her efforts are an attempt to get a cash settlement from the diocese.
“There isn’t a dollar figure that can [relieve] the humiliation,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.