Former Priest Accused of Molesting Boy in 1994, 1995
Former Priest Avoided Prosecution in Earlier Case

January 23, 2006

LOS ANGELES -- A former Catholic priest who avoided prosecution in an earlier child sex-abuse case appeared in court Monday in connection with new charges alleging that he molested a boy in 1994 and 1995.

Michael Stephen Baker, 58, of Long Beach, was arrested Thursday at Los Angeles International Airport after returning from Thailand and other countries.

Baker was charged Monday with eight felony counts of oral copulation of a person under 18. He appeared in court Monday afternoon, but his arraignment was delayed until Feb. 14 at the request of his attorney, Donald Steier.

Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner James Bianco set bond at $800,000.

"As I see it, these are serious felony charges," Bianco said.

Bianco acknowledged Baker has less access to minors now that he is no longer a priest. But Bianco said the ex-clergyman is still a risk to jump bail now that new charges have been filed.

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.

Steier argued for a reduced bond Monday in the new case, saying Baker made all his court appearances on the previous case and had been working and living in Southern California. Baker has a job counseling the elderly, Steier said.

But Deputy District Attorney Marc Beaart said Baker "is a threat to the children of Los Angeles."

Many other young boys may have been victims of Baker, but are afraid to come forward, Beaart said. Baker also has made several international trips, the prosecutor said.

The new case alleges Baker molested a boy in 1994 and 1995. The boy was 7 years old when Baker, then a priest at St. Hilary's Catholic Church in Pico Rivera, met the boy and his family, according to the District Attorney's Office.

The boy and his relatives eventually moved to Mexico, from where they had immigrated, prosecutors said. But Baker visited them there and brought the victim back to the United States for visits in Palm Springs, Los Angeles and Arizona, prosecutors said.

Baker stopped all contact with the boy when the boy turned 18, prosecutors said.

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.

Baker left the ministry in 2000, said Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the archdiocese.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.