Preliminary Hearing Is Scheduled for Former Priest, Michael Baker

December 12, 2006

Los Angeles, CA (CNS) -- A preliminary hearing is scheduled for a reviled ex-priest who allegedly went on to molest, even after confessing to Cardinal Roger Mahony that he was a child abuser.

Defrocked priest Michael Stephen Baker was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport in January as he returned from a vacation in Thailand and has been in jail on charges of molesting a boy. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment earlier this year.

The preliminary hearing set to start is intended to help a judge determine if there are grounds for Baker to stand trial.

The 58-year-old Baker, whose case Mahony calls the one that "troubles me the most," according to the Los Angeles Times, is one of the most reviled ex- priests in a scandal that has implicated dozens of clergy and generated 562 claims of abuse against the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles, the nation's largest.

Mahony has acknowledged leaving 16 priests in the ministry after parishioners complained about inappropriate behavior with children. Baker is one of five who went on to molest, according to The Times.

Mahony recently announced a landmark deal to settle for $60 million lawsuits brought by 45 people who said they were molested by Catholic priests. Those cases, a fraction of the number pending against the archdiocese, include those related to Baker.

Two brothers alleged in 2000 that Baker molested them beginning when they were 5 and 7 and continuing for more than a decade. Baker was defrocked, and the brothers received a $1.3-million settlement, paid for by the archdiocese, its insurers and Baker. Twenty years ago this month, Baker went to Mahony and told him he had a problem, according to The Times. Church officials then sent the popular priest to a residential center in New Mexico that treated clergy accused of molestation.

When he returned from treatment, Baker was barred from having individual contact with minors but allowed to take part in "specialized ministry not related to children and youth," according to a 2002 letter Mahony wrote to priests in which he apologized for improperly handling the case, The Times reported.

Six of the nine rectories where Baker lived from 1987 until he was removed from ministry six years ago were next to elementary schools. The church has admitted making a "terrible mistake" in believing that Baker had reformed.


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