Gregarious and charismatic, Baker was so well-liked at St. Paul that several families followed him in 1982 when he was transferred to St. Hilary in Pico Rivera. Baker was brought in as administrator and associate pastor at a time when parishioners were deeply divided along ethnic lines over a nun's alleged physical assault of a young Latino pupil at St. Hilary Elementary School.
"He speaks Spanish fluently," said Deacon Arturo Barragan, who served with Baker at St. Hilary. "He has a capability of understanding the experience of the Mexican people. He has been very in touch with their culture."
Baker also was known for his active involvement in youth groups and teen clubs. He frequently took altar boys to the movies and on overnight trips.
The first incident of alleged abuse that has come to light took place in 1976 when Baker invited a 9-year-old altar boy to spend the night at St. Paul's rectory after a church-sponsored New Year's Eve party.
"That night was the beginning of a near-decade-long nightmare," the alleged victim, now 34 and living in West Hollywood, wrote recently in a memo to his attorney. "I knew what was happening was wrong, but felt trapped and would often just stare at the digital clock on the nightstand, afraid to go to sleep ... "
The Times does not identify victims of sexual abuse without their consent.
The man recalled in an interview with the Times that Baker took him on trips to Palm Springs, Newport Beach, Reno and Chicago. He said the abuse escalated to oral sex and that Baker occasionally whispered to him, "You're the son of God."
Years later, Baker expressed remorse in a letter to the man. "I know very well the confusion and hurt of the past and especially my responsibility in that," Baker wrote on Jan. 29, 1994. "I don't know what I can ever do."
Eight other people have alleged that they were molested by Baker in the late 1970s and '80s, according to interviews with them and their lawyers. Two brothers say Baker began abusing them at St. Hilary in 1984 when they were 5 and 7 years old.
In September 1985, Mahony was appointed head of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. The following summer, at an annual series of retreats for archdiocese priests, Mahony invited anyone who had engaged in sexual abuse to talk to him privately.
"We said to priests, 'If you have a problem or had a problem, it's really beneficial to step forward now,'" Mahony recalled in last month's interview. "We made it clear that, if you told us, we would follow the policies."
The procedures included removing a priest from ministry and referring him for evaluation while the archdiocese investigated any allegations, Mahony said.
In a series of interviews with the Times, Baker declined to comment on specific allegations of abuse. The priest said he admitted in a private meeting with Mahony in December 1986 that he had engaged in sexual abuse of minors.
"I told Mahony I had a problem," Baker said in one of a series of interviews with the Times. Mahony did not ask for specifics and appeared willing to let him remain in the priesthood, Baker said. "He was very solicitous and understanding. I was glad I brought it up."
That evening, Baker said, he received a call from Msgr. Thomas Curry, the vicar for clergy who oversaw all priests. Curry directed Baker to return to archdiocese headquarters the next day.
When he arrived, Baker said, Curry was joined by Mahony and John P. McNicholas, the archdiocese attorney. At the meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes, Baker said he was asked the extent of his problem. Baker said he disclosed that "two or three" victims were involved and vowed not to engage in any future sexual misconduct.
"I don't recall them pressing me for details, and I didn't give them any," he said.
At one point, Baker said, he became startled when McNicholas blurted, "Should we call the police now?" Baker said he recalled Mahony's response: "No, no, no ... "