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$8M for 88 victims of abuse by US Franciscan friar

October 21, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Eighty-eight former students who were sexually molested by a Franciscan friar who worked as an athletic trainer at a Pennsylvania Catholic high school have settled their legal claims for $8 million, according to two attorneys who represent more than half the victims.

Attorney Richard Serbin represents 13 former students at Bishop McCort High School, and attorney Mitchell Garabedian represents 33. The students said they were abused by Brother Stephen Baker, who worked at the school in Johnstown, 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of Pittsburgh, from 1992 to 2001.

Baker, 62, committed suicide at his monastery in by stabbing himself in the heart in January 2013. That occurred nine days after the Youngstown, Ohio, diocese disclosed abuse settlements with 11 former students who said they were abused by him at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, from 1986 to 1990.

News of those settlements prompted many of the Bishop 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 immediately return calls and emails 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.

School spokesman Matthew Beyon confirmed the settlement but declined to elaborate.

Altoona Bishop Mark Bartchak 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.”

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.

The Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, also participated in the settlement. It said Tuesday that, although it was not named in any lawsuits filed in Pennsylvania, it elected to participate in the settlement “for reasons of pastoral concern and healing.”

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.

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