Notorious priest at center of $10-million church abuse payout
The agreement brings to an end four lawsuits against the archdiocese involving Michael Baker, a charismatic parish priest accused of molesting at least 23 boys over three decades.
The church has settled numerous cases brought by Baker’s victims in the past, but the $9.9-million settlement announced Tuesday is the first settlement since the January release of 12,000 pages of internal archdiocese records about abuse. Many of those documents detailed Cardinal Roger Mahony’s dealings with Baker.
The priest admitted his abuse of two boys to the then-archbishop during a 1986 retreat. Mahony sent Baker to a New Mexico treatment center but later returned him to the ministry, and Baker molested again. In 2007, he was convicted of abusing two boys and sent to prison.
Two of the civil cases settled were set for trial next month. Vince Finaldi, a lawyer for the alleged victims, said he believed the file release “played heavily” into the archdiocese’s decision to settle the cases.
“Once we got the files it confirmed everything we had argued for years and years,” Finaldi said. “Cardinal Mahony’s fingerprints were all over the case.”
A lawyer for the archdiocese said the church was committed to compensating people hurt by Baker, and the negotiations were “just a matter of reaching a reasonable number.”
“We’ve taken responsibility for Michael Baker, whatever he did and for whomever he did it to,” said attorney J. Michael Hennigan.
A lawyer for Baker, who was defrocked in 2000, did not respond to messages seeking comment. Baker was released from prison in 2011 and lives in Costa Mesa. Baker is not required to pay anything under the terms of the settlement, Finaldi said.
The men who settled the suits range in age from 24 to 54. Two are brothers of a third man whom Baker was convicted of molesting. He previously received a $2-million settlement. Under a distribution agreement determined by a judge, his brothers will receive $4 million each for abuse that they said they suffered in the mid-1990s.
A man who alleged that Baker abused him in 1974 and another who said the priest victimized him in the mid-1980s each received nearly $1 million.
-- Harriet Ryan and Victoria Kim
Photo: Michael Steve Baker, right, in court in 2007 with his attorney. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times