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Ex-Priest Accused

Hearing: 35-year-old says he shared bed with cleric, was molested for 10 years

Apr 14, 2003 | Long Beach Press-Telegram,

A 35-year-old man testified Monday that he was an impressionable 8-year-old when he started sharing a bed with a priest.

The testimony came during a preliminary hearing in Downey Court for a former Catholic priest accused of repeatedly molesting an altar boy more than 20 years ago while serving at churches in La Mirada and Pico Rivera.

Michael Stephen Baker, 55, is facing 29 counts of sexual misconduct with a child.

The alleged victim, now 35, is identified only as Matt S. by court officials because he is a possible victim of sexual abuse.

"He was more than just a clergyman, almost a member of the family,' Matt S. testified. "Father Mike was a close friend, a wonderful priest and I felt incredibly guilty. I thought I would be in trouble if I told.'

Matt S. told Deputy District Attorney Steven Katz that, beginning at the age of 8, he had often spent the night in the same bed with Baker in the rectory of St. Paul of the Cross Church in La Mirada and later at St. Hilary in Pico Rivera.

He said the alleged assaults started in 1976 when he stayed overnight at St. Paul to serve as altar boy for the 7 a.m. Mass.

"When it came time to go to bed, I remember there was some question as to whether I should wear my pajama bottoms,' the victim said.

Matt S. told the court it began with caresses, then progressed to fondling and masturbation. When he was 14, he testified, it escalated to oral copulation.

Baker gave him gifts and money, he testified.

During the alleged molestations, Matt S. said, "He would compare me to Jesus and say I was like the Son of God. I would freeze my body and stiffen my muscles as a kind of resistance.'

He tried once to tell his parents, Matt S. said, but they dismissed his report as normal horseplay among males.

During a break in the court proceeding, Matt's father said he did not notice what was happening to his son.

"You put these people on a pedestal,' the father said. "You never imagine that this kind of thing can happen. When I found out, I went to St. Hilary and I was going to give him at least one good punch, but the people at the rectory saw the look in my eye and wouldn't let me in. It's probably for the better.'

The molestations ended in September 1986, Matt S. testified.

Defense attorney Donald H. Steier fought to exclude one piece of evidence a letter Baker allegedly wrote to Matt S. and dated Jan. 29, 1994, eight years after the alleged assaults ended. Matt S.' mother referred to the letter as "the smoking gun in this case.'

In the letter, Baker blames his own self-centeredness and ego for some of Matt's problems.

"I am glad that you have encountered therapy,' he wrote. "(I) crashed and burned through your life, not waking up to reality until eight years ago.'

The hearing to determine whether Baker will stand trial continues this afternoon.

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