Thursday, January 04, 2007

Former Los Angeles Archdiocese priest to appear in court

Hearing scheduled today for Michael Baker comes amid speculation over the direction of the L.A. abuse investigation.

The Los Angeles Times reported today that:

Less than two weeks after Cardinal Roger M. Mahony announced a landmark deal to settle lawsuits brought by 45 people who said they were molested by Catholic priests, the focus of the Southern California clergy sex scandal moves back to the criminal courts.

Former priest Michael Stephen Baker is due in court today for a hearing; he has been charged with molesting a boy after he had confessed to the cardinal that he was an abuser. He pleaded not guilty at an arraignment earlier this year.

Baker, whose case Mahony has said "troubles me the most," is one of the most reviled ex-priests in a scandal that has implicated dozens of clergy in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, generated 562 claims of abuse and touched three out of every four parishes in the largest Roman Catholic archdiocese in the nation.

Mahony has acknowledged leaving 16 priests in the ministry after parishioners complained about inappropriate behavior with children. Baker is one of five who went on to molest.

Baker's association with Mahony plus his return to court have fueled speculation about where the criminal investigation might be headed.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley accused the archdiocese of "a pattern of obstruction" when his office and the church fought over whether the archdiocese officials had to turn over documents to prosecutors.

The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before Mahony, who maintained he could not turn over the priests' files to a county grand jury without their consent, lost his bid in April.

The district attorney's office, which has had the files on Baker and another priest since then, declined to comment. Across the country, despite five years of investigations that have resulted in scores of priests being charged with molestation, no high church officials have been charged.

Grand juries have issued stinging reports in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Arizona, accusing high-level clergy of actively covering up sexual misconduct. In two of those cases, prosecutors said they declined to bring criminal charges when the local church agreed to compensate victims and submit to oversight of church functions by law enforcement.

In Cincinnati, officials did not charge any individuals, but the church pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor of failing to report sexually abusive priests. The case was settled without a trial, and remains the only instance in which an abuse investigation reached farther than individual molesters.

In Los Angeles, some victims and their advocates would like to see church officials held accountable.

"No one who is familiar with the facts really believes that Cardinal Roger Mahony is innocent," said John Manley, an attorney for several people who said they were abused by priests. "The question is, does the D.A.'s office have the moral courage to … do the right thing if the evidence leads him there?"

Church officials, on the other hand, say there is no basis for such prosecutions to even be considered.

The complete story may be found here:,0,6205222.story?coll=la-headlines-california


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