Burns reacts to criminal charges related to sexual abuse of students at his former high school
EBENSBURG, March 15 – Saying it confirms the suspicions that cemented his support for abolishing the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, state Rep. Frank Burns said criminal charges announced today against three Franciscan friars stemmed from a teacher’s assaults on students reported at his former Johnstown high school.
The charges filed by the state attorney general center on the molestation of over 80 children by the late Brother Stephen Baker at Bishop McCort High School and elsewhere between 1992 and 2010. Burns, who graduated from McCort in 1994, was never victimized by Baker, but knew him and is certain his friends and classmates were.
“I’ve been saying that they were victims ever since the state grand jury report on the Altoona-Johnstown diocese came out two weeks ago,” said Burns, D-Cambria. “As I read the sickening details, I knew that even though I’m a Catholic and proud of my religion, I couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer and watch perpetrators run out the justice clock.”
Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced the felony charges of endangering the welfare of children and criminal conspiracy today in Johnstown. Kane said the criminal charges carry a maximum seven-year sentence.
“These individuals knew that Brother Baker was a child predator and that Baker had faced allegations of child molestation … and did not report it to police,” said Kane, who termed it “significant criminal wrongdoing” by the trio of Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars, Province of the Immaculate Conception, based in Hollidaysburg, Blair County.
Burns noted that today’s charges arose from a separate grand jury presentment than the one released two weeks ago, and that according to Kane, the grand jury could not find evidence that the Altoona-Johnstown diocese knew of Brother Baker’s predatory activities.
Burns has thrown his legislative weight behind two bills, H.B. 951 and H.B. 655, which respectively seek to open a two-year window to file a civil suit for timed-barred cases, and to abolish the civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse.
In a March 4 news conference he organized at the Cambria County Courthouse, and again yesterday at a similar event in the Capitol, Burns reiterated that the driving force behind his commitment to changing the law involves knowing that his friends and classmates were victimized.
“I am their voice, and I will stand with those who want to change these laws, so victims like them can seek justice,” Burns said. “I take no particular joy in revelations like this; however, as General Kane said today, ‘This is not about a religious order, this is not about Catholicism. This is about the law.’”
Burns said anyone with information related to child sexual abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown area should call the attorney general’s hotline, which has generated more than 200 allegations, at 888-538-8541.