Settlement with Pa. victims of ex-Warren JFK priest totals $8 million

Staff and wire report


Attorneys for about half of the 88 former students sexually abused by a Franciscan friar, who worked as a teacher and athletic trainer at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown, Pa., say the students’ claims have settled for $8 million.

Altoona attorney Richard Serbin represents 13 former students at the school, and Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian represents 33. The students said they were abused by Brother Stephen Baker, who worked at the school, 60 miles east of Pittsburgh, from 1992 to 2001.

Baker, 62, committed suicide in January 2013 by stabbing himself shortly after two former Warren John F. Kennedy students and Garabedian disclosed that 11 former Kennedy students had reached a settlement with that school, the Diocese of Youngstown and the religious order under which Baker served, the Franciscan Third Order Regular. The newest settlement involved the Diocese of Youngstown as well.

The Warren revelations prompted many of the alleged McCort victims to come forward.

Serbin has been pursuing clergy-abuse claims for nearly 30 years but said, “What’s unique here is the sheer number of students that were abused.”

“I’ve filed claims against child predators who have had multiple victims, but this certainly was a predator that was prolific, and the position he was given as an athletic trainer allowed him to have such easy access to young people,” Serbin said.

Garabedian said the victims settled for amounts between $60,000 and slightly more than $120,000 each, depending on the duration of abuse, its impact on their lives and other factors, including whether their claims would have been barred by the statute of limitations.

“The settlements will help the victims gain a degree of closure and assist them in trying to heal from these terrible acts of sexual abuse,” Garabedian said.

A spokesman for Bishop McCort did not return calls and emails from the Associated Press seeking comment Tuesday.

The school was owned and operated by the Diocese of Altoona when the abuse occurred, but it is now run by an independent board. The school’s principal, who served when Baker was on the staff, resigned in June 2013 as the abuse allegations surfaced.

Altoona Bishop Mark Bart-chak said in a statement: “The diocese hopes that this outcome will allow the victims to seek counseling and find the healing and comfort they deserve. We continue to pray for them and all victims of sexual abuse.”

Altoona Diocesan spokesman Tony DeGol announced in August that the sale of the bishop’s home was pending and that money from the nearly $1 million asking price might be used to care for sexual-misconduct victims. Bartchak, who was not targeted in the abuse claims, has moved into the rectory at Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona.

“Once again, you’re dealing with dioceses and religious orders that appear to be doing the right thing but are only reacting to getting caught,” Garabedian said.

The settlement also named a former Altoona bishop who headed the diocese when the abuse occurred; Baker’s order; and the related Province of the Immaculate Conception. Franciscan officials didn’t return calls seeking comment.

The settlement is believed to cover nearly all the former Bishop McCort students, nearly all males, who have alleged abuse. Garabedian said another former student had just come forward, and separate legal action will be taken on his behalf.

The 11 men who settled out of court with Warren John F. Kennedy High School and the Diocese of Youngstown received amounts of upper five figures each as a result of sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of Baker, who taught, coached baseball and served as athletic trainer at the school.

Baker fondled teenagers age 14 to 18 from 1986 to 1990 in the JFK training room, elsewhere in the school and on trips outside of Warren, the two victims said.

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