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Priest Sent to Therapy Is Accused of Abuse

Apr 17, 2002 | Los Angeles Times
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A 34-year-old West Hollywood man reported Tuesday to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department that he had been molested from 1976 to 1986 by a priest who Cardinal Roger M. Mahony said failed to comply with a church-ordered therapy program.

The man, whose name is being withheld by The Times, claimed he was abused repeatedly by Father Michael Baker, beginning when he was 9 at St. Paul of the Cross Church in La Mirada. "Father Mike did this to me, and he did it to others and needs to answer for his crimes," the man said.

Baker, 54, is one of several former priests whose names were recently turned over by church officials to Los Angeles Police Department investigators. Baker left the priesthood two years ago and agreed to pay a portion of a $1.3-million settlement to the family of one victim, according to sources familiar with the deal.

Mahony, who refused to discuss the specifics of Baker's case, said in an interview the former priest is among a small group that "troubles me the most," men who have left the archdiocese and are living without any supervision.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Baker said he could not comment on the allegations or Mahony's characterization of him. "I have some feelings of response and clarification ... but I don't think I can really comment on them right now. I have been advised not to," he said.

Baker began years of counseling in the mid-1980s after the archdiocese learned of alleged child abuse, according to sources knowledgeable about Baker's treatment.

"All of our evidence showed that he was never really complying with any therapy program and therefore there was never any cooperation of any kind," Mahony said.

"The experience of many in dealing with him was they questioned the truthfulness of what he said."

Mahony is under increasing pressure to reveal the names of priests who have been fired over child abuse allegations.

L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley sent the cardinal a letter warning of a grand jury investigation unless law enforcement agencies receive assurances that the archdiocese is disclosing everything it knows about the abuse allegations.

Lawyer Says Publicity Fuels Abuse Allegations

Baker's attorney, Don Steier, declined to discuss the allegations. He cautioned that many priests have been accused of wrongdoing in recent months, citing the unsupported claim by a Fresno woman that she had been abused by Mahony in 1970. Police in Fresno concluded there was no evidence to support the claim.

"It doesn't surprise me that there will be allegations made against priests or even the cardinal based upon the amount of publicity that is currently being generated," Steier said. "And ultimately, we will examine each case individually and determine the validity of the allegations. We've already seen that the allegations involving the cardinal were not meritorious."

Jeffrey R. Anderson, an attorney for the West Hollywood man, said he sent a fax to Mahony on Tuesday notifying him of the allegations and asking whether any other claims of sexual misconduct have been lodged against Baker.

Anderson, who represents dozens of alleged victims of pedophile priests across the country, said his client "is credible, he is earnest, and he is in a place where for the first time he could break his silence.... I told him you could put your head in the pillow tonight knowing you've done everything you can to make sure this kind of abuse doesn't happen to someone else."

In the late 1980s, Mahony assigned Baker to work with retired priests and to occasionally help with Sunday masses at various parishes. He was not allowed to work with children.

The man who reported the allegations to Sheriff's investigators claimed Baker would arrange to have him spend the night at St. Paul.

"It started off very subtly. I'd be in bed with him and gradually it progressed," the man said. "I started staying up there once every couple of weekends."

Baker, he said, took him to a home in Palm Desert, to Balboa Island and on a trip to Chicago, where he allegedly molested him. Baker, he said, lived lavishly for a priest and occasionally brought the man's mother and father on trips to Palm Desert.

"He was a very charismatic guy. He befriended everyone," the man said.

Accuser Says Priest Gave Him Money

Baker sometimes showed remorse, he said, and would "leave money on the bed in the morning. I have a letter somewhere from him, after the fact, that he was sorry for everything."

Years later, the man said, he told a therapist about the molestations. He said the therapist reported them to police but nothing came of it except a single call to his mother, the man said.

Around 1990 or 1991, he said, he confronted Baker. He said for several years he occasionally received money in the mail from Baker.

The L.A. Archdiocese is one of several ministries around the country dealing with clerical sex abuse accusations, some decades old.

In Cooley's letter, sent last week and obtained Tuesday, he said recent disclosures had raised serious questions about compliance by church officials with the state law that requires clergy members to report child abuse.

"Your personal assurance that all known or reasonably suspected instances of child abuse have been reported by the archdiocese to the appropriate law enforcement agencies is essential," the letter said.

Cooley said if the archdiocese fails to comply, "formal investigation through the Los Angeles County Grand Jury may become necessary."

In a reply received by Cooley this week, Mahony said his clergy are trained to comply with the law and that no information was being withheld. Mahony also provided details on four active cases, three involving priests and one allegation against a deacon.

Cooley on Tuesday sent another letter to Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and Larry Lewis, president of the L.A. County Police Chiefs' Assn., requesting that they review the cardinal's reply to see whether archdiocese officials are complying with the state reporting law.

"A complete investigation to determine if there have been violations of mandatory child abuse reporting laws or any criminal child abuse laws by persons associated with the Los Angeles archdiocese is essential," Cooley said.

Mahony told Cooley his attorneys know of four active criminal cases in the L.A. archdiocese: an ousted priest in Bell Gardens, a South El Monte deacon who pleaded guilty to felony sex crimes, a priest under investigation for allegedly abusing altar servers and another former priest accused of pinching a girl on the buttocks.
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