Brother Stephen Baker

Back in early 2014, Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan referred the Brother Stephen Baker child sexual abuse investigation to the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General.

That decision ultimately led to the release of a scathing 147-page grand jury report on Tuesday that expanded well beyond any research into claims of abuse made against one athletic trainer at what was then called Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown. The report pulled the veil back on what was, according to the document, decades of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown systematically protecting sexual predators within its own community of priests and religious leaders.

When discussing the Baker case and its connection to the grand jury, Attorney General Kathleen Kane said, “I can only tell you that the investigation is ongoing, but (the diocese report) did come out of the referral from District Attorney Kelly Callihan.”

Callihan said she referred the case to the attorney general's office for multiple reasons: it covered several other counties in which she did not have jurisdiction, Cambria County did not possess the resources to conduct the investigation, and one of the alleged victims once worked in her office. She asked the attorney general to get involved even after Baker died – January 2013 – reportedly from stabbing himself in the heart at St. Bernardine Monastery near Hollidaysburg.

“I can tell you I am relieved that I continued the investigation on after Brother Baker's death,” Callihan said. “When he died, I was in that quandary where we couldn't prosecute him for any criminal acts he committed, but I had information that it went deeper than his acts.”

Johnstown police

Callihan expressed concerns about the failure – in her opinion – to report child abuse by the diocese, school and Johnstown Police Department, according to the grand jury document.

Last August, The Tribune-Democrat learned, through a right-to-know request, that the Johnstown Police Department knew about accusations made against Baker.

There was some confusion as to whether the statute of limitations had expired in those cases.

Also, Johnstown Police Department Chief Craig Foust said the alleged victims did not want to cooperate with the investigations, “so there was nothing we could do,” as he explained. Callihan was not consulted by the JPD.

Foust continued: “We were notified of two complaints. We did a thorough investigation.”

Who knew what?

The institution now known as Bishop McCort Catholic High School conducted an internal investigation into the Baker case.

Callihan and Kathleen Gallagher, counsel to the Bishop McCort Catholic High School Board of Trustees, dispute what was done with that information.

“From the moment allegations arose against Brother Stephen Baker, the Bishop McCort Catholic High School Board of Trustees took aggressive, pro-active steps to investigate the disgusting charges, and in return they received no assistance and no support from the district attorney,” Gallagher said. “Ms. Callihan was AWOL. She can try her best to avoid blame, but claiming you do not have a budget to look into what the public can now see as widespread abuse is no reason, it is an excuse. Blaming a tiny school for not doing her job, the job she was elected to uphold, is sad on so many levels.”

Gallagher added: “It was not until Bishop McCort reported to her that she even made a referral to the attorney general.”

Callihan claimed Bishop McCort “refused to turn over the internal investigation report to me.”

She continued: “They've portrayed that they cooperated with the investigation, but all I got was a verbal rendition. I never saw their written report. They never turned that over.”

“I will reiterate, as I told her then, that there was no written report,” Gallagher said. “This can be verified with the Office of the Attorney General. That is not subject to dispute, nor is the fact that the district attorney of Cambria County did nothing until she was confronted by the facts of the investigation conducted by Bishop McCort Catholic High School.”

'Damaged many children'

Baker was accused of molesting upwards of 90 students when he served at the school from 1992 into 2001. Allegations of abuse had previously been made against the brother in Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota.

“I applaud the Pennsylvania attorney general for conducting an investigation of widespread sexual abuse of children by diocesan clergy and religious order clergy in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown,” said Bob Hoatson, co-founder of Road to Recovery, an organization that supports victims of child abuse. “Her actions will help make the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania a safer place for children. Road to Recovery Inc. has held numerous public events in the Altoona-Johnstown area during the past several years, indicative of the large amount of sexual abuse that has occurred there in Catholic institutions. Brother Stephen Baker and many other priests and religious persons damaged many children and their families in the area, and it's time for justice for those innocent victims.”

Mitchell Garabedian, who represented many of Baker's victims, compared the revelations about what happened in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese to other Catholic Church child abuse scandals in places such as Philadelphia and Boston.

“The victims of Brother Stephen Baker should be proud of themselves by carrying forward through this process,” Garabedian said Tuesday. “By doing so, the victims have improved themselves, other victims, and made the world safe for other children.”

Even though the Baker allegations provided the impetus for the grand jury investigation, no details of the case were provided in Tuesday's report.

 Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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