Former Priest Arrested at LAX for Alleged Child Molestation

January 20, 2006

LOS ANGELES -- A former Los Angeles Archdiocese priest who escaped prosecution for sexual abuse on children in 2003 because of a Supreme Court ruling was arrested Thursday at Los Angeles International Airport.

Michael Stephen Baker, 58, was arrested at 2 p.m. on suspicion of commiting lewd acts upon a child, according to Sgt. Dan Scott, of the sheriff's Special Victims Bureau.

The arrest "is in connection with the ongoing investigation into allegations of child molestation involving present and former Catholic priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese," according to a statement from the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

The Los Angeles Times reported in October that investigators had opened a new probe of Baker, focusing on two brothers who said they were molested by the now-former priest. The probe had been hindered because the brothers now live in Mexico, but investigators obtained visas last spring so the brothers could be interviewed in Arizona.

Investigators interviewed Lynne M. Cadigan, the brothers' Tucson-based civil attorney, who obtained a $1.3-million settlement on their behalf from Baker and the archdiocese, she told the newspaper.

Officials would not confirm whether Baker's arrest today was in connection with the brothers' allegations.

Scott said investigators searched Baker's residences in Huntington Beach and La Mirada. He said Baker was arrested as he returned from Thailand and several other countries because the airport was "a safe place" to make the arrest.

The District Attorney's Office said a decision on charges will be made Monday, and an arraignment will be scheduled early next week.

An earlier criminal case against Baker was dismissed in 2003 because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision barring prosecution of decades-old sexual abuse cases.

Baker left the ministry in 2000, said Tod Tambergm of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

Baker told Cardinal Roger Mahony in 1986 that he had molested children, according to the archdiocese and Baker. The archbishop did not alert police, but rather sent Baker for treatment, after which he was assigned to a series of nine other parishes.

"Cardinal Mahony has already acknowledged and apologized for the mistakes made in handling Father Michael Baker, a case that taught many important lessons," the diocese noted in its 2004 "Report to the People of God."

Baker had been accused of sexually abusing 23 boys and girls from 1974 to 1999, including at least four after he admitted his molestations to Mahony, the archdiocese has reported.

The brothers at the center of the more recent investigation are now in their mid-20s. They have said in prior interviews with The Times that Baker began abusing them at St. Hilary Catholic Church in Pico Rivera in 1984 when they were 5 and 7 years old.

The boys' family moved to Mexico in 1986, but Baker over the next 13 years flew them to Los Angeles, Palm Springs and Arizona, where the abuse allegedly continued until 1999, at least once in the priest's rectory, The Times reported.

Van Nuys resident Matt Severson, a member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and one of Baker's original accusers, issued a statement saying Thursday's arrest will help "begin the healing process."

"For myself, and for the many other victims of Michael Baker, I am glad that he is being held accountable for at least some of his crimes," Severson said. "However, no amount of jail time can ever repair the lives of those Mr. Baker has devastated.

"Hopefully, as justice is served, we might finally begin the healing process," he said. "It has been a long time in coming."


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