Brother Stephen Baker, the Franciscan friar accused of committing sexual offenses against students at Warren John F. Kennedy and Johnstown, Pa., Bishop McCort Catholic high schools left a note saying: “I’m sorry for what I did to the church.”
In suicide note, Brother Baker apologized ‘for what I did to the church’
By Ed Runyan
Brother Stephen Baker, the Franciscan friar accused of committing sex offenses against students at Warren John F. Kennedy and Johnstown, Pa., Bishop McCort Catholic high schools, left a suicide note saying: “I’m sorry for what I did to the church.”
The note was found near his body in his room at the St. Bernadine Monastery in Newry, Pa., Saturday morning after Baker stabbed himself in the chest. Baker was dead at the scene, and his death was ruled a suicide.
Officials also found other letters in sealed envelopes in the room, and those letters are being given to the people whose names are on them, said Patty Ross, Blair County coroner.
“He basically just apologizes for his behavior,” Ross said. “There was one open note [near Baker’s body] that just said, I’m sorry. I’m sorry to the church, to everyone and also to his sister.”
“There were other [sealed] letters” addressed to specific people, she said. “Of course we wouldn’t open those.”
Ross later restated the contents of the letter as: “I’m sorry for what I did to the church.”
At a Jan. 16 news conference in Trumbull County, two former JFK students told reporters they were among 11 men who were sexually assaulted by Baker while they were students there from 1986 to 1990.
Baker served as athletic trainer, religion teacher and baseball coach while at JFK. He held similar positions at Bishop McCort.
The 11 were part of a financial settlement reached for them by a Boston attorney. The settlement was paid by Baker’s religious order, the Franciscan Third Order Regular Province of the Immaculate Conception, and the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown.
The accusers and their attorney said Baker massaged their genitals and digitally penetrated them while giving massages in the school’s small, closed training room and in other locations.
Meanwhile, a Greensburg, Pa., attorney filed a notice with the Cambria County, Pa., Common Pleas Court on Jan. 22 indicating she has clients with a claim against Bishop McCort High School, where Baker was assigned after he left Warren JFK.
The notice also names as defendants the Catholic dioceses in Youngs-town and Altoona- Johnstown, and Baker’s religious order. Atty. Susan N. Williams said the notice, called a writ of summons, indicates to the defendants that a suit might be filed later. The notice alleges intentional negligence and lists Bishop McCort High School as the lead defendant.
The Youngstown diocese is named because of the sexual assaults Baker is accused of committing against students at JFK during his time there from 1986 to 1991, Williams said.
“I think it’s possible there was some knowledge on the part of the diocese,” Williams said.
“At some point, the diocese may have known something and may or may not have passed something on to the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown,” she said.
Nancy L. Yuhasz, chancellor for the Youngstown diocese, said she could not comment on the filing because she had not yet seen it.
“If the information was there and they chose for whatever reason to ignore it, that also would be a problem,” Williams said of officials within the Youngstown and Altoona-Johnstown dioceses.
Bishop George V. Murry of the Youngstown diocese 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 Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, and the diocese had no legal liability in the matter.
Bishop Murry added that the diocese found no records prior to 2009 indicating any sex allegations against Baker.