[Archdiocesan spokesman Tod Tamberg] said the notion that there was an organized band of sexually abusive priests was preposterous.
False, maybe, but why preposterous? Is it an inherently unworthy thought? Based on what's known in the public sphere, such priests lacked neither the numbers, nor the clout, nor the motive to form such a network. Or are we to imagine that keeping secrets from the authorities is something child-molesting clergymen just don't do? Whatever Tamberg's reasoning, his employer is at pains to get the message out. The Times says "One admitted molester, Michael Baker, was assigned in 1993 to the Office of Vicar of Clergy, a key department in the church hierarchy." This from a letter of Cardinal Mahony to his priests from May 14, 2002:
It is quite likely that very soon the public media will highlight the case of Michael Baker, a former priest of this Archdiocese. You need to be aware that such a story could come anytime now, and you need to be aware of the seriousness of his case.
Sometime in late 1986, Baker disclosed to me that he had problems in the past of acting out sexually with two minors. Baker was sent to a treatment center for evaluation and recommendation for his future. Following treatment, it was decided that he could do specialized priestly ministry not related to children and youth. He was subsequently given various ministries, such as special outreach to our retired priests. All during this time, we had no reports of abuse.
Free-lance journalist Ron Russell (New Times, July 2002) contends the facts of the matter are considerably less favorable to the cardinal:
Father Michael Baker was accused of molesting numerous children during more than a decade after Mahony welcomed him back to the fold in the mid-1980s, despite knowing then of his history of pedophilia. Mahony assigned Baker to serve as a chaplain at County-USC Medical Center, and later used him in parish work where he regularly came in contact with children as a substitute for priests who were ill or on vacation. Sources say Baker and Mahony were especially close, and that Baker was among an elite number of prelates privileged to spend weekends with the cardinal at his cabin near Yosemite National Park. Mahony finally dismissed Baker two years ago and kept it quiet by imposing a "confidentiality agreement" on the victims' families and their lawyers after paying them $1.3 million in church funds.
Well hey, what's $1.3 million between friends? In a follow-up article (New Times, September 2002), Russell claims that the cardinal was a late entrant into the full-and-candid-disclosure business:
On other matters, Mahony's media assertions clearly do not appear to square with the facts, as when he says, "Looking back at it, sure, knowing what we know today, we would have picked up the phone and called [police] on every single case that ever came along, just to double-check. We didn't do that, but [we weren't] trying to hide anything."... In fact, Baker, who went to Mahony in 1986 to confess a few of his sexual sins, expecting to be drummed out of the priesthood (he wasn't), says that it was Mahony who squelched the idea of turning him over to police.
I'm confident that the cardinal welcomes the new lawsuit as an opportunity to make the facts clear, under oath, for the public record.
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Posted by: -
Dec. 19, 2003 2:10 PM ET USA
Baker and Mahony were "especially close" and Baker spent "...weekends with the Cardinal at his cabin near Yosemite..." Weekends at a cabin in the woods...? Spent in prayer and fasting, no doubt. Weren't there Masses to be said, Baptisms to be performed and penitents to be shriven on those weekends...? I mean, the weekend is a priest's 'busy time', isn't it? Methinks this doth not meet the smell test...
Posted by: Pseudodionysius -
Dec. 18, 2003 4:28 PM ET USA
There's no spider hole big enough to swallow up the evidence of this web of deceit.