• on January 24, 2013

Bp. Murry’s statement at press conference 1.24.13 re: Bro. Stephen Baker

Press Conference on the Brother Baker Situation
Most Reverend George V. Murry, SJ
Bishop of Youngstown

This morning, I want reassure the people of the Mahoning Valley that the Diocese of Youngstown is taking every possible action to protect children from sexual abuse. In that regard, I can tell you that there are no credibly accused priests in ministry nor any credibly accused employees working for the Diocese of Youngstown. Once again I encourage all those who have suffered from abuse at the hands of anyone associated with the Church to come forward to the civil authorities and/or the Church in order that they may find peace, justice and healing.

Let me begin with the notorious case of Brother Stephen Baker. I am deeply sorry for the pain which the victims of Brother Baker endured while at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren. Brother Baker betrayed the trust which these young men placed in him as a spiritual leader. While I understand that nothing I can say will eliminate their agony, I want them to know that I stand with them and will not tolerate abusive behavior from Church officials.

The Diocese of Youngstown first became aware of the misconduct allegations concerning Brother Baker in 2009 through correspondence from the attorney for the former JFK students. This same correspondence was sent at the same time to JFK and the Superior of the Third Order Regular Franciscans in Pennsylvania. After receiving the letter, I spoke with the Superior of the Franciscans about Brother Baker’s status.

As soon as the Diocese received sufficient information about the allegations, by which I mean the details of the allegations, our attorneys followed our standard procedure and reported them to the civil authorities, in this case, Trumbull County Children Services.

Brother Baker has never been a member of the clergy of the Diocese of Youngstown. Neither the Diocese, JKF nor the Franciscans had any knowledge of allegations of abuse while Brother Baker served at JFK. At the end of the 1991-1992 school year, Brother Baker and other Franciscans serving in the Diocese were recalled to Altoona, Pennsylvania. The reason given by the Franciscan Superior for the transfer was to concentrate their efforts in one place as they faced declining numbers. There are no indications of a problem with Brother Baker in the files at JFK or here in the Diocesan offices.

Although the Diocese of Youngstown did not have legal liability in this case, in order to promote healing, we, along with representatives from the Franciscans, agreed to participate in the mediation process with the victims and their counsel. At the end of this process, the Franciscans covered 70% of the total settlement while the Diocese contributed the remaining 30%.

We agreed to a settlement because we believed the allegations to be credible. No confidentiality agreement was requested or signed by any of the parties. We do not make secret agreements. Anyone of the victims is free to discuss the details of the settlement. Out of respect for the privacy of the victims, however, we do not disclose such information publically.

Once the settlement was finalized, I expected that the Franciscans would follow our diocesan procedure, make a public statement and contact all of the students who attended JFK at the time Brother Baker was there to inform them and ask if anyone else was victimized by him. They did not do that. Thus, the president of the John F. Kennedy Schools,

Mr. Brian Sinchak and I are doing that now. If there is anyone else who was a victim of Brother Baker, I hope he or she will come forward so that we can help them.

Now, what are we doing to insure this does not happen again? As I said at the beginning of this press conference, the Diocese of Youngstown is committed to protecting our children. We want to build a protective shield around them, which is exactly what a good family does so that children can grow.

On the level of the Church in the United States, seminaries have adopted more effective methods of screening candidates for the priesthood and religious life which are intended early on to identify men with disordered tendencies and prevent them from advancing toward ordination. On the local level, we require all those working with children to participate in training classes on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of child abuse and how to report it. Furthermore, all clergy, diocesan employees and volunteers must be fingerprinted and undergo background checks.

Safe environment programs for Children in our schools and religious education are woven into the curriculum. Children are taught to recognize the difference between “good touch and bad touch” and what to do if they are approached inappropriately by an adult. They are similarly taught how to tell their parents, teachers or other adults if they feel threatened.

Information inviting alleged victims to come forward is routinely published in The Catholic Exponent Child Protection Policy book, which is required reading for all clergy, religious, teachers, staff and volunteers, is available on our website at www.doy.org.

In these ways, we work to keep children safe. I understand that these actions cannot change the past. But I believe we can help relieve the burden of pain from the past and insure our present and future through these safe-environment programs.

When we receive an allegation, we immediately report it to the civil authorities, reach out to the alleged victim, place the accused person on a leave of absence and begin a process to determine if the allegation is credible. The process is outlined in our Diocesan Child Protection Policy which is available to you and which follows the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People which was approved by the US bishops and the Vatican. Essential to this process is a full investigation of the allegation by a company that employs former FBI agents.

It is important to recognize that there is a difference between an allegation and a credible allegation. Unfortunately, some people think that every allegation is credible. Experience shows that is not the case.

In order for an allegation to be credible there must be some corroborating evidence or reasonable basis for the allegation which is the tradition of American law.

Once the investigation is complete, the investigator presents his finding to an independent, predominantly lay Review Board which advises me about whether or not a person should continue in ministry. The Review Board members include a medical doctor, a retired police detective who ran domestic violence and crisis intervention programs, a counselor, a retired psychologist and high school principal, a Jewish attorney, a Lutheran minister, a parent, a permanent deacon, and a pastor who served on the committee which wrote the Standards of Ministerial Behavior. No one credibly accused of inappropriate behavior with a minor is permitted to continue in ministry or remain in the employment of the Diocese. We however can only act on what we know. Therefore, it is vital that if a person has information he or she shares that information with the civil authorities and/or with us.

When the victims of abuse have contacted us, we have always offered them pastoral assistance including the cost of counseling. We will continue to do so. If a man or a woman has experienced sexual, physical or mental abuse from an official of the Church, we want to help them come out into the light and begin to reclaim their lives.

Sexual abuse damages the life of a victim. An unproven allegation of sexual abuse damages the life of an innocent person. In fairness, every allegation of sexual abuse must be thoroughly investigated. That takes time, but it is time well spent.

Moving forward, JFK president, Brian Sinchak, and I are in the process of writingto the victims of Brother Baker to express our sorrow and support. I also will invite them to meet with me personally so that I can apologize to them face to face.

During the past weeks, the JFK School family has prayed for the victims and for all those devastated by abuse. Moreover, I will celebrate a special Mass of healing and reconciliation at JFK at a date to be determined.

The Catholic Church has done outstanding work throughout country in caring for the poor, providing health care ministries, even to those who cannot afford it, and in education. Sadly, a small number of very disturbed priests and religious have precipitated a loss of trust in the Church. All of us associated with the Church are working to rebuild that trust. I see the good fruits of that labor in the letters and email I receive from victims thanking the Diocese for the help it has given to them.

But there is much more to be done. I want everyone who sees or hears me today to be confident that we will continue to take every reasonable step to protect children from sexual abuse; that we will remove and keep those credibly accused of abuse out of ministry or Diocesan employment; and that we will respond with compassion to those who are the victims of abuse.

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