A pair of lawsuits has been filed against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on behalf of alleged victims of the notorious pedophile and former priest, Michael Baker.
The lawsuits accuse the Archdiocese of gross negligence in allowing Baker to return to ministry in the 1980s. Both suits also name Baker as well as Archbishop Emeritus Cardinal Roger Mahony. The lawsuits were the most recent among others filed following legislation passed in California that opened a three-year window, effective Jan. 1, 2020, for civil claims of sexual assault to be brought to court.
Baker was among those named in the 2004 Report to the People of God, a comprehensive Report published by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles outlining the mistakes made in the past handling of the problem, and one of the first such reports in the country. The report included a list of clergy publicly or credibly accused of sexual misconduct with minors in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
In a statement issued Feb. 12, the Archdiocese once again expressed “deep regret for the mistakes made” in handling Baker’s case, and cited the comprehensive changes and reforms it has made over the last several decades in its efforts to prevent sexual abuse.
A priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles since 1970, Baker admitted to then-Archbishop Mahony in 1986 to having inappropriate relationships with two minors. Following the advice of medical experts at the time, Mahony removed Baker from ministry and sent him to a center for professional treatment. Upon the center’s evaluation and recommendations, Baker was permitted to return to limited ministry not involving minors.
“As described in the 2004 Report, Baker deceived parishioners, therapists, church leaders and most of all, his victims,” the archdiocese said. “He manipulated treatment protocols in order to continue to prey upon young people.”
In 2000, Baker was immediately removed from ministry when the Archdiocese became aware of allegations by two adults of being abused by him when they were minors in the 1980s and 1990s. Baker was later removed from the priesthood and eventually pleaded guilty to abuse charges in 2007. He served several years in jail before being released on account of time served.
Cardinal Mahony, who today is retired with full faculties to minister, has publicly acknowledged and apologized for the lack of understanding of the problem and mistakes made in handling this case at the time.
One of the lawsuits was filed Feb. 7 by a man identified as John Doe, who claims Baker abused him repeatedly as a boy in the mid-1990s at St. Columbkille Church in South LA.
The unnamed victim in the other lawsuit, dated Jan. 31, says he was abused by Baker at St. Elizabeth Church in Van Nuys around 1990 or 1991, when he was 10-11 years old.
In its statement, the Archdiocese noted that Cardinal Mahony had put in place some of the most rigorous anti-abuse policies in the U.S. Catholic Church, including establishing an independent, lay-led Clergy Oversight Advisory Board (CMOB), a mandatory background check and fingerprinting system for anyone who works with minors, a “zero-tolerance” policy for anyone found to have abused a minor, and an internationally respected Victims Assistance Ministry.
The Archdiocese again apologized “to every person who has been harmed by a member of the Church,” and reiterated its “unwavering commitment to the support and healing of victim-survivors and to ensuring that parishes, schools and ministries are safe places for everyone in our community.”
As part of the Archdiocese’s ongoing efforts to provide compensation and pastoral support for abuse victims, it is participating in an independent compensation program that is available to any person who has been sexually abused as a minor by a diocesan priest, no matter when that abuse might have occurred. The deadline for registering new allegations with the program is Feb. 29, 2020. For further information, contact californiadiocesesicp.com.
Resources on Abuse Prevention Initiatives in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles
Full resources on the abuse prevention initiatives of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles can be found at protect.la-archdiocese.org: including “Our Commitment to the Protection of Young People,” a summary page of the Archdiocese's abuse prevention efforts in English and in Spanish, and summary timelines in English and in Spanish.