YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A Catholic high school in Pennsylvania has hired an attorney to investigate allegations that a Franciscan friar named in Ohio sexual abuse settlements molested students at a Johnstown school in the 1990s.
Attorney Susan Williams said three former students at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown have talked to her in detail about the alleged abuse.
Brother Stephen Baker taught and coached at the church-run John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, in the late 1980s and early 1990s and at Bishop McCort from 1992-2000.
Bishop McCort said in a release that it hired a Pittsburgh-based law firm to investigate after school trustees became aware of the allegations last week.
In Ohio, Bishop George Murry of the Youngstown Diocese has offered assurances that children will be protected in the wake of recent financial settlements dating from alleged abuse by Baker.
The pledge came Thursday and followed last week’s announcement of settlements with 11 men who say they were abused at Kennedy. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
The (Youngstown) Vindicator said it was the third time in as many years that the diocese promised transparency, pledges increasingly met with skepticism from victim advocates.
In a news conference, Murry said the diocese was first alerted about the abuse in 2009 in a letter from the victims’ attorney.
A group that represents victims of clergy abuse alleged earlier in the week that there are other cases of abuse unrelated to Baker in the diocese. Murry said he knows of no other allegations but will investigate if any are known.
`’We can only act on what we know,” Murry said.
All allegations are immediately reported to police, victims are offered pastoral or professional counseling and the person accused is placed on a leave of absence until it can be determined if the allegation is credible, Murry said.
A panel made up of lay people including a retired police detective with experience in family issues meets to review the evidence and decide if the allegations are credible, Murry said.
In the Kennedy case, mediation settlements involved the school, Baker’s Third Order Regular Franciscans and the diocese, which said it was unaware of the allegations until nearly 20 years after the alleged abuse. Franciscans said they responded compassionately when notified.
Because of statute of limitation issues, the cases were resolved without charges or lawsuits, an attorney for the former Kennedy students said.
Baker, who has been removed from public ministry, hasn’t responded to an interview request left at his Newry monastery.