Pa. officials look at abuse allegations

EBENSBURG, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office is taking over the investigation of sex abuse allegations involving a Franciscan friar accused of abusing students at Warren’s John F. Kennedy High School and other Catholic schools more than a decade ago, a prosecutor said.

Pennsylvania District Attorney Kelly Callihan of Cambria County, near Johnstown, Pa., received a letter Friday from Attorney General Kathleen Kane, the (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat reported.

At least 65 people in Warren and in other locations have come forward claiming to be sexual abuse victims of the late Brother Stephen Baker. Several former students at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown have sued school officials and the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, which formerly ran the school, for the alleged actions of Brother Stephen Baker. He was an athletic trainer there from 1992 to 2001.

Baker, 62, a former teacher and coach at JFK, and a member of the T.O.R. Franciscan Order, committed suicide after two of his former JFK students said at a news conference that they had been sexually abused by Baker in the late 1980s, and other people started coming forward with similar allegations. The two men are among 11 who received financial settlements resulting from those claims. Baker was never charged criminally. However, authorities in Pennsylvania said they found a note near Baker’s body in which he apologized.

The Warren students’ claims prompted former students from McCort to begin coming forward with abuse claims.

Callihan asked state prosecutors to review the case to determine whether school or diocesan officials properly reported any information they had about alleged abuse to law enforcement authorities. A state law enacted the same year Baker came to the school makes it a crime for certain types of officials who supervise children not to report such information.

Altoona-Johnstown Diocesan spokesman Tony DeGol said he couldn’t comment on Kane’s letter and wasn’t aware of it.

Matt Beynon, a spokesman for Bishop McCort’s trustees, issued a statement confirming the board is cooperating with the state investigation.

The school was run by the diocese until 2008 when it became independent and run by the trustees.

“Since the allegations against Brother Baker first surfaced, the Bishop McCort board of trustees has been committed to learning all the facts involved and taking steps necessary to ensure that the school remains a safe learning environment for its students,” the statement said.