Wempe Weeps As Witness Testifies
A Man Describes Actions by the Then-Priest When He Was a Student in Lancaster. Others Testify about Molestations

By Jean Guccione
Los Angeles Times
January 25, 2006,0,6009887.story?coll=la-news-state

Michael Stephen Wempe wept Tuesday as a Houston man testified that the former priest used religion class to teach him about masturbation, then encouraged him to practice when they were alone.

The testimony came during the second day of Wempe's trial on charges of abusing a boy in the early 1990s. Wempe, through his attorney, has admitted to molesting 13 boys decades ago, but denies the more recent abuse allegations.Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Curtis R. Rappe is allowing testimony about past molestations to bolster prosecutors' contention that Wempe was a practiced abuser who used the same script to exploit children for decades.

The Houston man attended Paraclete High School in Lancaster, where Wempe taught religion and coached golf. When Deputy Dist. Atty. Todd Hicks asked the man if he was a good golfer, Wempe, sitting at the defense table, nodded yes.

The two men had not seen each other for decades, and the witness did not look at Wempe as he left the courtroom.

Wempe, 66, faces up to 16 years in prison if convicted of charges of lewd conduct with a minor and oral copulation.

His attorney, Leonard Levine, said the current accuser is lying to avenge his two brothers, whose cases were barred by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Wempe has not molested anyone since Cardinal Roger M. Mahony sent him to residential therapy in the 1980s, and he is sincerely sorry for his past misconduct, Levine said.

"Here is somebody who has changed and is obviously remorseful about what happened," he said.

Mahony has called his decision to assign Wempe to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where the most recent abuse was alleged, a mistake. He said he didn't know that the hospital had a children's ward.

The Times generally does not identify sexual abuse victims.

Earlier in the day, another man testified that he was visiting Wempe's rectory at St. Sebastian Catholic Church in Santa Paula when he was startled to see his teenage brother lying naked on the priest's bed. Wempe, bare-chested, appeared in the doorway and told him to come in, the man, now 26, testified.

"Father Mike said, 'Come back here. It's your turn,' " the man recalled.

A third witness, a 39-year-old Valencia man, said he would often sleep in the priest's bed at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Palmdale. The next day, he would assist Wempe at Mass as an altar boy.

"He would fondle me, then give the body of Christ to the whole church with that same hand," the man testified.

Late one night, when he was 15, the priest was driving him home when he detoured to a rest stop on a secluded mountain road, where he orally copulated him, the man testified. The next morning, he said, the priest met his school bus at Quartz Hill High School and warned him not to tell his friends.

Shortly afterward, the man quit ninth grade and hitchhiked to San Diego.

He confessed the molestation to a Valencia priest in the 1990s, he testified.

"I was hoping that the priest would reach out to me," he said. But the priest did nothing, he said.


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