Catholic priest Joseph “Father Jack” Baker sentenced for child rape

The Oakland Press [Troy MI]

March 1, 2023

By Aileen Wingblad

Baker is former pastor of St. Perpetua in Waterford, crime happened years earlier at Wayne County church

A Catholic priest and former pastor found guilty last fall of raping a young boy nearly 20 years ago was sentenced to prison Wednesday —  while his attorney said he maintains his innocence and will appeal his conviction.

At his sentencing hearing in Wayne County’s 3rd Judicial Circuit Court, Joseph “Father Jack” Baker was ordered to spend 3-15 years in prison, with jail credit of 140 days, for first-degree criminal sexual conduct-sexual penetration of a person less than 13 years old.

Baker was pastor at St. Mary Catholic School in Wayne and his victim was a second-grader there when he was raped in the church sacristy in 2004. Both the victim and Baker were among those who testified at the trial last October, with Baker denying the allegation.

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

In handing down the sentence, Judge Bridget Hathaway veered from sentencing guidelines of a minimum 25 years in prison, calling Baker’s case “somewhat unique.”

Noting that the priest was convicted of “one of the most serious crimes in the state,” Hathaway cited several factors for the lighter sentence, including Baker having no other criminal allegations against him and no prior criminal history, compliance with bond conditions for more than three years while he awaited trial, and several dozen letters of support from parishioners and others who, she said, credited him with doing  “a great deal of good for the community.”

Baker didn’t offer a statement prior to sentencing, as advised by his attorney Allison Kriger. An appeal is planned.

Baker’s victim, now in his 20s, didn’t attend the sentencing hearing. Assistant Attorney General Danielle Russo Bennetts told the court “he chose not to be here today,” and that he had “endured harassment at the preliminary exam” in 2019.

“He’s just grateful the jury found him believable,” Russo Bennetts said.

Baker’s victim came forward a few years ago, and Baker was charged following an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office which was launched after the victim’s father reported his son’s allegation to the Archdiocese of Detroit in 2019.

During the trial, Baker’s victim testified that he was in his late teens before understanding what had happened to him and that he suffered from psychological issues because of the sexual abuse.

Baker was 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. Following his arrest in 2019, he was suspended, and then in June 2022 was informed that his assignment at St. Perpetua had ended.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Kriger had asked the judge to sentence Baker to time served and “a period of probation or home confinement,” claiming he has a history of “dedication to service,” community involvement and helping others “in some of their darkest hours” — as evidenced by the letters written to the court on his behalf.

“This offense is 20 years old and is truly an aberration in Father Baker’s otherwise exemplary life…he has spent the last 20 years being the complete opposite of what he have seen in this case,” she said.

Russo Bennetts, however, argued that the “face (Baker) presented to the community and the face his victim saw” weren’t the same.

“This was not an aberration…he changed and destroyed (the victim’s) life,” Russo Bennetts said. “The people who wrote those letters weren’t sexually assaulted by Joseph Baker. The Joseph Baker in those letters in not the Joseph Baker (the victim) knows.”