3 Priests Ordered to Stand Trial

By Sandra Marquez
Associated Press, carried in Contra Costa Times [Los Angeles CA]
Downloaded June 20, 2003

LOS ANGELES - Two former Catholic priests were arrested and a third sat in a courtroom Thursday where a judge ruled that there was sufficient evidence for him to stand trial on child molestation charges, authorities said.

The series of legal actions marked the latest episode in the ongoing sex abuse scandal surrounding the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese. With Thursday's arrests, 10 former and current priests and one ex-seminarian have been charged by the Los Angeles County district attorney.

"These are people who are not in ministry today and they have to face justice," said church spokesman Tod Tamberg. "It's one of the steps along the way of dealing with what happened in the past."

Michael Wempe, 63, accused of molesting five children from 1977 to 1986, was arrested as he left his Seal Beach home. Wempe, who was forced to retire last year by Cardinal Roger Mahony, was being held on $2 million bail.

District Attorney Steve Cooley said the arrest "shows law enforcement's determination to ensure justice for sexual abuse victims." Added Sheriff Lee Baca: "The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will continue to investigate crimes against children no matter who the perpetrators are."

Lee Bashforth, 33, a Newport Beach stockbroker who says Wempe molested him and his brother from 1976 to 1985 while Wempe was a Ventura County parish priest, said word of the arrest gave him "tremendous relief."

"It's been 15 months of agony since I went to the Police Department and reported what he did to me when I was a little boy," Bashforth said. "My hope is that he is prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I hope he goes to prison for a long time for what he has done to kids."

In Stockton, Titian A. Miani, 76, was arrested at his home for investigation of molesting two girls in the 1960s while he was a priest assigned to the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

Multiple counts of child molestation are expected to be filed against both former priests Monday, said Jane Robison of the District Attorney's Office.

Bashforth said he hoped the arrests would lead to the prosecution of church officials, including Mahony, for allegedly covering up for abusive priests.

"I hope the D.A. means what he says when he says he will follow the evidence," Bashforth said. "There is nobody that is more responsible for concealing predatory priests than Roger Mahony."

Tamberg said Wempe's alleged criminal conduct appears to have taken place before Mahony became bishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese in late 1985.

"Cardinal Mahony removed Wempe from the ministry in early 2002 when he made zero tolerance retroactive," Tamberg said. "At the time of his removal, there were no new allegations against Wempe that were made to us, or the hospital where he was a chaplain. Nevertheless, he was permanently removed from ministry. That reflects Cardinal Mahony's commitment to making a safe environment for all our people in the church."

Meanwhile, Judge Frederick N. Wapner ruled that there is sufficient evidence for retired priest Matthew Michael Sprouffske, 76, to stand trial on four counts of lewd acts with a child, Robison said. His arraignment was scheduled for July 3.

Sprouffske's cousin testified Thursday that she has a clear memory of being molested nearly 50 years ago by Sprouffske while he was assigned to Mount Carmel High School. She said he later admitted to her that he had also molested both her sisters and another girl who was not a relative.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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