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Prosecutors file new molestation charges against former priest

January 04, 2007|John Spano | Times Staff Writer

A Roman Catholic priest sexually molested a young parishioner while he was unconscious during a weekend trip and staged a blood ceremony cementing their "friendship," prosecutors alleged in new charges filed Wednesday.

The former priest, Michael Stephen Baker, 59, has pleaded not guilty to earlier molestation charges. Arraignment on the new charges was expected today.

Baker told Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of his interest in children 20 years ago. He was sent for treatment, allegedly molested more children, and was defrocked in 2000 by Mahony, who said publicly that his handling of Baker's case is the one that "troubles" him most.

Baker's lawyer, Donald H. Steier, declined to comment.

"We are convinced there are archdiocesan members and staff -- current and former -- who could help prosecutors convict Baker," said Mary Grant, head of the support group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "The only question is whether they'll be moral or timid, whether they'll speak up or stay silent."

According to the new charges, around 1995, when Baker was working as an administrator at St. Columbkille Parish in Los Angeles, he began abusing the unidentified youth.

In the rectory, where Baker lived, he gave the youth "a ring with a red stone emblazoned with a cross as a symbol of their special friendship," according to a memorandum filed with Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley.

"Moments later, Baker pricked his finger and [the youth's] finger and joined the two bleeding fingers together. Uniting the fingers, he told [him] that they were joined for life," the memo said.

On a weekend trip in 1996, Baker allegedly gave the accuser a cup of hot chocolate and the youth soon fell asleep; Baker allegedly molested him while the youth was unconscious.

The five new charges filed Wednesday bring to 15 the total against Baker, who has been in custody since he was arrested in January 2005 at Los Angeles International Airport as he returned from a trip to Thailand.

Five years ago, Baker was charged with molesting an altar boy at St. Paul of the Cross Church in La Mirada.

But that case and a dozen others Cooley had filed were dropped after a U.S. Supreme Court decision voided a California law that allowed for the prosecution of older child abuse cases.

The youth in Wednesday's charges reported the incident to authorities in October, according to court documents.

Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said the youth was identified in part when the church surrendered confidential personnel files on Baker after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down an appeal by Mahony that sought to keep the papers secret.

The church investigated the case -- though the youth denied any improprieties -- in 1996, said Michael Hennigan, lawyer for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Hennigan said a monsignor reported seeing the youth leaving Baker's room in the rectory, and began an investigation.

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