Priest's Belated Trial
Baker: Finally, an Accused Molester of Young Boys Faces Justice
Press Telegram [Long Beach CA]
April 16, 2003
Seventeen years too late, judgment day has finally arrived for former priest Michael Baker, the admitted pedophile who worked for a time at a parish in Long Beach.
Seventeen years after Baker confessed his crimes to church leaders, he was ordered by the Superior Court Tuesday to stand trial on 29 counts of child molestation.
Seventeen years after the Catholic Church knowingly unleashed a predator on several Southern California parishes, including St. Lucy in Long Beach, his victims may finally see justice done.
Seventeen years. How could this happen?
It's a question with no good answer; a shameful story of crime, cover-up and damage control at the top levels of Los Angeles' most powerful religious organization. Its perpetrators are finally being brought to justice, but what about those who stayed silent and knowingly protected criminals?
Baker confessed in 1986 to Cardinal Roger Mahony that he had molested young boys under his care at an L.A. parish. Mahony not only failed to report the crimes to authorities, but kept Baker in the church for 13 more years. In 1992 he was assigned to three parishes, including St. Lucy, and continued to work until 2000 when he was quietly removed from the priesthood.
Only when the charges threatened to surface in the media years later, in 2002, did Mahony report Baker to law enforcement authorities and admit that Baker confessed to him in 1986. The disclosure led to a wider investigation by the District Attorney's office, which is now investigating 100 L.A. area priests suspected of sex crimes.
The Baker case has parallels with another church scandal in Long Beach in the early 1990s, involving Father Ted Llanos, who was also at St. Lucy. The archdiocese quietly removed Llanos from the parish, but refused to publicly acknowledge the situation, or attempt to determine the extent of his crimes. Nor did the church fully cooperate in police investigations, Long Beach police said at the time.
Only under extreme pressure from the family of one of Llanos' victims (who believed, rightly, that there were others) and with the police investigations underway, did the church grudgingly acknowledge a problem with Llanos. And even then, the initial information was vague and incomplete. Llanos committed suicide in 1997 before he could face trial.
In a misguided attempt to protect the church's reputation, Mahony and other leaders exposed more children to potential abuse, protected criminals, and tarnished the reputations of good priests throughout the nation. Through its silence, the church has been complicitous.
Seventeen years is far too long for Baker's victims to have had to wait for justice. Now, at last, they may find some degree of comfort in the knowledge that he will finally stand trial for his criminal acts.
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