Notorious LB Priest Gets 10 Years

By Will Swaim
The District
December 3, 2007

One of the most notorious priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese accepted a 10-year prison term in exchange for his guilty plea today in the molestation of two boys, one of whom, The District has learned, he raped in Long Beach in the 1990s.

Father Michael Stephen Baker's surprise deal with the Los Angeles County District Attorney allowed the diocese to avoid a lengthy trial. But victims present for the sentencing at the Criminal Courts Building downtown still had their chance to describe Baker's impact on their lives, some tracing responsibility for Baker's attacks to Cardinal Roger M. Mahony himself.

According to documents reviewed by The District, Baker visited Cardinal Mahony on Holy Thursday, just a few days before Easter 1987, and told the top archdiocesan official that he had molested children. According to victims' attorney John Manly, Mahony sent Baker to the Servants of the Paraclete, a pedophile treatment facility run by the Catholic Church.

(Full disclosure: Manly is a District investor.)

Baker spent six months in treatment and returned to Los Angeles. Mahony sent him back into ministry at several LA County parishes through 2000. According to victims' attorneys, Mahony never warned parishioners about Baker's status as a molester and the priest was allowed unfettered access to children.

Baker raped one of those children in a Long Beach condo on Ocean Boulevard. According to law enforcement sources, Baker and an unnamed Long Beach woman owned the condo.

A series of civil suits in which Baker was named prompted a criminal investigation. That ended when sheriff's deputies and District Attorney agents arrested Baker in Los Angeles as he returned from a trip to Thailand in 2002.

During today's sentencing, victims and their representatives spoke about Baker's impact on their lives. A 10-year-old girl said she'll never forgive the man who raped her father when he was just a boy; her father stood at her side weeping. Referring to Baker's close relationship with high-ranking church officials, another representative said real justice would be served the day Cardinal Mahony shared Baker's cell.

The victim statements were occasionally pyrotechnical. At times, deputies moved between speakers and Baker, apparently fearing survivors might physically attack the priest.

The final victim's representative held up a photograph of his son, perhaps seven at the time, in the arms of Father Baker. He explained that Baker had just finished Mass; he pointed out the joy on his son's face, and Baker's intimacy with the boy. His son could not be present for the hearing, the father explained, because he has suffered a lifetime of drugs, alcohol and despair—all of it, he said, beginning with Father Baker. Then, addressing Baker directly, he said, "We trusted you. How could you do this to us and our family?"

He paused and then paraphrased the Gospel of Matthew, telling Baker, "For he who hurts one of my children it would be better if you placed a millstone around your neck and threw yourself into the sea."

Baker said nothing.

In the end, Baker shook hands with his attorneys and left the courtroom, likely bound for state prison. In a moment of supreme irony, it was at about that same moment that the Archdiocese funded the $600 million settlements it agreed to last summer to settle hundreds of molestation cases.


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