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Franciscan linked to Ohio abuse now eyed in Pennsylvania

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – A Franciscan friar named in legal settlements with 11 men who say he sexually abused them at a Catholic high school in northeast Ohio three decades ago was also the subject of complaints he abused boys at a Pennsylvania school in the late 1990s, church officials said.

The undisclosed financial settlements announced Wednesday in Ohio involved Brother Stephen Baker’s contact with students at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio from 1986-90.

Ohio Attorney Mitchell Garabedian said the cases there were resolved without criminal charges or lawsuits because of concerns with the statute of limitations.

The settlements were reached after talks involving the school, Third Order Regular Franciscans and Youngstown Catholic Diocese, which said it was unaware of the allegations until nearly 20 years after the alleged abuse.

Now, Bishop Mark Bartchak of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese in central Pennsylvania has acknowledged receiving complaints in 2011 of possible abuse by Baker at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown, about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh. Baker taught religion and acted as a trainer for the baseball team at the school in the late 1990s.

Two of the Ohio men who spoke at a news conference about the settled claims said they were abused by Baker when he coached baseball at the Ohio school. Now a Pennsylvania attorney, Michael Parrish, said at least five men who played baseball at the Johnstown school when Baker was there claim he touched them inappropriately, too.

Parrish said his clients are shocked “that what was relayed to them as therapeutic treatment was probably just a creative ruse for a sexual assault or molestation.”

Baker hasn’t been charged or sued in Pennsylvania and hasn’t returned requests for comment at St. Bernardine’s Monastery in Newry, Pa. His religious order said he’s living under supervision to ensure he has no contact with minors.

Tony DeGol, a spokesman for the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, said Baker is not a diocesan priest so officials there are not handling his situation. Still, Bishop Bartchak forwarded the information he received in 2011 to proper authorities and expressed concern in a statement issued Thursday.

“The abuse of minors at any time and place is wrong and can never be excused,” Bartchak said in the statement.

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