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Alleged Abuse Victim Testifies Against Former Catholic Priest

Apr 15, 2003 | AP A man who claims he was molested by a Roman Catholic priest while he was an altar boy testified at a preliminary hearing that the former cleric sent him intimate notes.

Matthew Severson said Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court that former priest Michael Stephen Baker allegedly molested him for 10 years during the 1970s and 1980s.

Baker, 55, has pleaded innocent to 13 criminal counts of committing a lewd act upon a child under 14 and 16 counts of oral copulation with a minor.

Severson, 35, testified that he was sexually assaulted by Baker in the rectory of two churches and in a Palm Desert condominium beginning when he was 7 or 8 years old. During the alleged sex acts, the priest would "compare me to Jesus or say I'm the Son of God," Severson said.

He also read from notes that were purportedly written by Baker, who apologized for his "immature emotions and psychosexual-screwed-up-ness," but said that "I've learned to love you more than I could ever imagine."

Severson said the molestation began when he served as an altar boy for daily morning Mass at St. Paul of the Cross in La Mirada and continued when his family changed parishes to follow Baker's transfer to St. Hillary in Pico Rivera.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles transferred Baker to several parishes after the priest told him in 1986 that he had molested young boys. The cardinal later approved a secret $1.3 million settlement to two men allegedly abused by Baker in the 1990s.

Mahony arranged for Baker to retire from the priesthood in late 2000 without notifying law enforcement authorities or informing parishioners about the alleged abuses. Baker was then removed from the priesthood.

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