Priest Admits Prior Abuses
Wempe Faces New Charges
The Associated Press, carried in Pasadena Star-News [Los Angeles CA]
November 20, 2005
LOS ANGELES - An attorney for a Roman Catholic priest expected to stand trial next week on child molestation charges said his client had molested 13 boys more than 20 years ago.
The lawyer for Michael Wempe made the admission Friday during a hearing in a criminal case in which the former priest is accused of molesting a boy when he was chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Defense attorneys Leonard Levine and Donald Steier opted to acknowledge previous clergy abuse in hopes of limiting damaging testimony about old cases.
Jurors probably "will say to themselves, `We don't care. We are not going to find him guilty for what he did 20 years ago,"' Levine told the court.
Wempe, 64, has pleaded not guilty to five charges that he sexually abused a boy over a five-year period.
The current case stems from charges filed in September, months after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling voided 42 other sexual abuse allegations against Wempe. The alleged victim, now in his mid-20s, is the brother of two previous alleged victims.
Deputy District Attorney Todd Hicks said he wanted to put on all 13 of Wempe's earlier victims to show that the priest was "a master" at child molestation by the time he met the younger brother.
Wempe was first charged with molesting five boys across Southern California between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s. The charges were thrown out when the nation's high court struck down a California law that erased the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases from 1988 and earlier. Hundreds of molestation cases were affected.
Wempe's case is of significant importance because he is one of three priests accused of molesting children after Cardinal Roger Mahony - who responded to abuse complaints - sent him to therapy and returned him to ministry.
The Los Angeles Archdiocese has been sued by more than 500 people for allegedly failing to protect children from clergy abuse. The cases, however, have been mired in settlement talks.
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