Priest Joseph ‘Jack’ Baker accused of rape testifies in court

The Oakland Press [Troy MI]

October 12, 2022

By Aileen Wingblad

Baker was pastor of Waterford’s St. Perpetua when arrested

A priest accused of raping a young boy in 2004 testified on his own behalf Wednesday, repeatedly denying the allegation and giving the jury an explanation for his apology to the boy’s father on a recorded telephone call: He was questioning what was being said, and was in his role as a pastor, offering comfort to a person who was suffering.

Joseph “Jack” Baker, 60, is charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct – sexual  penetration with a person less than 13 years old.  The alleged victim claims that while he was a second-grader at St. Mary Catholic School in Wayne, he was sent to the church sacristy during an after-school religious program to retrieve a book — and that’s where he was put over a table and raped.

The Oakland Press is not naming the victim due to the nature of the offense.

As prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Office, a key piece of evidence presented earlier in the trial — and again on Wednesday — was a recording of a phone call the alleged victim’s father made to Baker in 2019, not long after the alleged victim told his parents he’d been raped 15 years earlier. Armed with a script prepared by a special agent with the Attorney General’s Office, the alleged victim’s father confronted Baker with the allegation. Baker replies that he didn’t do what he was accused of, and is then met with a response from the alleged victim’s father: “I just need to know if you are sorry.”

While continuing to deny the sexual assault, Baker says: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry he feels that…it never happened, again I promise you that.” He follows with another “I’m sorry.”

In testifying, Baker said it can be heard in his inflection that he was actually saying, “I’m sorry?” as in asking a question.

“I’m questioning what I’m being accused of, I’m questioning what he is saying,” Baker testified.

‘Tasked with giving healing and comfort’

Baker also insisted that the prosecution’s transcript of the call is wrong in quoting him as saying “I know it is true,” when he was actually saying “I know what is true.”

Further, Baker can be heard saying “I give you my word, it will never happen again” — for which he offered this explanation: “If it never happened the first time, it will never happen again.”

As the alleged victim’s father says “I’m trying to get my head around this,” Baker responds with “I’m sorry but, you know…I’m sorry. I don’t know what more to say to you, I’m sorry.”

His explanation for that exchange was that he was acting as a pastor who is “tasked with giving healing and comfort.”

Baker said as a priest and pastor, he would say “I’m sorry” many times for something he didn’t do, such as if someone told him their son had cancer and was perhaps blaming God, or when someone has died. “I’m trying to bring him comfort, (such as) ‘sorry for your loss.’ ”

On cross examination, Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark challenged Baker’s testimony and explanations that suggest those who hear the call “can’t trust (their) own ears.”

Father Joseph "Jack" Baker during a 2019 court appearance in Wayne County. (Aileen Wingblad/MediaNews Group)
Father Joseph “Jack” Baker during a 2019 court appearance in Wayne County. (Aileen Wingblad/MediaNews Group)

Other witnesses

In building his defense, Bagley presented six witnesses prior to calling Baker to the stand — former teachers and other former employees of the parish school who said the alleged victim would never have been sent to the sacristy and wouldn’t have participated in after-school religious education — offered for those who didn’t attend school there like he did.  The alleged victim said he was making up for First Communion preparation he had missed while absent from school.

Baker served as pastor of St. Mary in Wayne from 1997 to 2008, and from there was assigned as pastor of St. Perpetua Catholic Church in Waterford Township. He was suspended following his arrest in 2019. He told the court Wednesday that he was informed in June that his assignment at St. Perpetua had ended.

Baker’s trial, held before 3rd Judicial Circuit Judge Bridget Hathaway in Detroit, will continue with closing statements on Thursday, followed by jury deliberations.