Franciscan accused of sex crimes at JFK commits suicide



Mike Munno of Cortland said he knew there would be some strange days ahead when he and a fellow Warren John F. Kennedy High School graduate discussed the sex crimes they say Franciscan brother Stephen Baker committed against them in high school, but Brother Baker’s death isn’t the outcome he wanted or expected.

“I don’t think it’s the closure we expected. I would have not thought it would have gone to this extreme,” Munno said Saturday after police near Hollidaysburg, Pa., were called to Baker’s room at St. Bernardine Monastery in Newry, Pa. after another resident found Baker not breathing.

“No matter what it is, you don’t wish death on anybody,” Munno said.

Blair Township police were called to the monastery after a resident found Baker’s body at 7:35 a.m. An autopsy indicated he died from a self-inflicted knife wound just before being found, and his death was ruled a suicide.

Blair Township Police Chief Roger White declined to say whether Baker, 62, left a note.

Newry is about 90 miles east of Pittsburgh.

“Let us continue to pray for all victims of abuse, for Brother Baker’s family and the repose of his soul,” Bishop George V. Murry of the Youngstown Diocese said in a statement.

Father Patrick Quinn, ministry provincial for Baker’s religious order of friars, Franciscan Third Order Regular, said of Baker in a statement Saturday, “We express our regret and prayers to his family, and especially to all who have been impacted by this tragic situation.”

Munno and another man met with the news media Jan. 16 to allege that the Youngstown Diocese and Franciscans settled out of court with them and nine other male JFK student athletes because Baker sexually abused them from 1986 to 1990 at the school and in other locations.

Baker was athletic trainer, baseball coach and teacher at the school from 1986 to 1992. While giving massages in a small, closed training room at the school, he would massage the boys’ genitals and digitally pentrate them, the men, a spokesman and their attorney said.

Each of the 11 purported victims received an “upper five-figure” financial settlement last October after mediation sessions with the school, diocese and religious order, their attorney, Mitchell Garabedian of Boston, said.

Several days after Munno and his former classmate discussed their allegations, Munno and Robert M. Hoatson, co-founder and president of the Livingston, N.J.-based Road to Recovery Inc. support group, went to Johnstown, Pa., and discussed the allegations at Bishop McCort High School.

Baker also worked as an athletic trainer and teacher at that Catholic school in the late 1990s.

In the days to follow, additional alleged victims of Baker from Warren JFK and Bishop McCort contacted Garabedian and several other attorneys to report abuse, according to The Tribune-Democrat newspaper of Johnston, Pa.

By one account, the number of people coming forward as of Friday was 50.

“It has pretty much been a whirlwind in kind of a good way, in kind of a not-so-good way, kind of complex,” Munno said of the news of the allegations, the additional people coming forward and now Baker’s suicide. “It’s been a crazy week and a half.”

Munno said he envisioned people coming forward after he and the other man told their story, but he didn’t expect so many.

One person who did not come forward was Baker himself, Munno said.

As for whether a comment from Baker would have helped bring closure for the purported victms, Munno said it probably would not have unless Baker had admitted guilt, but he doubts Baker would have done that because he believes Baker was facing possible prosecution.

Charges could have resulted from crimes allegedly committed against one of the 11 men from the Warren JFK settlement and many alleged victims from Johnstown, Munno said.

The statute of limitations had run out for 10 of the 11 men from Warren JFK, but it had not expired under Pennsylvania law, Munno said.

On Thursday, Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains encouraged any victims of Baker to contact the police agency within the jurisdiction where any possible illegal act occurred so that an investigation could be conducted.

Warren police said Friday no one had contacted them to report anything, and Munno said he hadn’t been told of anyone who was planning to report the matter to police.

Munno not only played sports at JFK from 1986 to 1990, but he also served as an assistant football coach at JFK for five years starting with the 1991-1992 school year, the last year Baker worked at the school.

Munno said Baker’s role with athletes was diminished during Baker’s last year at the school, which also was the first year under Coach Tony Napolet. During that year, the school started working with “a more professional trainer,” Munno said.

“I was kind of standoffish,” Munno said of his relationship with Baker during that final year.

Hoatson, in a statement after learning of Baker’s death, reaffirmed his group’s support for “the courageous survivors of sexual abuse by Brother Stephen P. Baker despite his unfortunate death today.

“Victim/survivors have stepped forward in significant numbers to bravely report that they were harmed as children and would like to heal. That healing will continue despite the news that has come out of Pennsylvania today.”

Hoatson added: “The passing of Brother Stephen P. Baker is in no way the fault of any of the courageous men and women who have contacted advocacy agencies, attorneys, or law enforcement agencies. Their pursuit of justice and truth must continue so they can heal and recover from the horrific ordeals experienced in childhood.

“Condolences are sent to the family and community members of Brother Stephen P. Baker who are left to mourn his death,” Hoatson said.

Judy Jones of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests issued a statement about Baker’s death, saying, “We feel sad for Brother Baker’s family but even sadder for the dozens of boys who Baker assaulted. His passing changes little, however. It’s still crucial that anyone who saw, suspected or suffered his crimes comes forward.

“Kids are safest when clergy sex crimes and cover-ups are exposed, and that’s still what needs to happen here,” she said.

Bishop Murry said last week the diocese was first alerted about the Brother Baker case in 2009 when the victims’ attorney sent a letter requesting information about the students’ transcripts and indicated there was “a possibility of an abuse claim.”

The diocese has said Baker was never a member of the clergy of the Diocese of Youngstown, and the diocese had no legal liability in the matter.

Bishop Murry added that the diocese found no records indicating any sex allegations against Baker.

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