Retired Catholic Priest Gets 3 Years for Child Molestation
Wempe Agreed to Forgo Appeal on Single Count
By Robert Jablon
The Associated Press, carried in The Desert Sun
May 6, 2006
LOS ANGELES - Retired Roman Catholic priest Michael Wempe was sentenced to three years in state prison Friday on one count of child molestation in a case that began with his admission that he had sexually abused many other boys decades ago.
Superior Court Judge Curtis B. Rappe sentenced the 66-year-old priest to the maximum term allowed by law, but that was reduced to just 479 days after deductions for the time he already served behind bars and credits for prison work and good behavior.
The defense estimated Wempe could be paroled in half that time.
He also was fined $600 and must register as a sex offender.
Wempe said nothing at the hearing, and defense attorney Leonard Levine said his client would not make statements of remorse because they would sound "hollow" and because of a pending lawsuit against Wempe.
"There are no winners in this case," Levine said. "There are just people trying to put their lives back here and move on."
The defense agreed not to appeal the sentence or seek a new trial under a deal with prosecutors, who said they wouldn't re-file four other charges over which a jury had deadlocked.
The victim's older brother, known only as Lee B., said he was disappointed by the sentence.
After his release "he'll go right back to work," Lee said. "He has the ability, with the Internet and the dangers that lurk on there, to accumulate more victims."
The trial played out over four weeks against the backdrop of an ongoing scandal in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles - the nation's largest - which is facing numerous lawsuits over allegations that it failed to protect children from molesting priests.
In his statement, Lee B. accused the Catholic Church and Cardinal Roger Mahony of concealing abuse by priests, of putting them into therapy and of using stall tactics in prosecutions of priests.
Spokesman Tod Tamberg said the archdiocese has "repeatedly apologized and explained its actions as to how the (Wempe) case was mishandled over the years" but there now are "effective policies" for dealing with priestly abuse.
"We hope that Wempe's conviction and sentencing brings some measure of healing and consolation to the young people that he abused," Tamberg said.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a statute of limitations on old claims resulted in dismissal of 42 molestation counts against Wempe involving 13 other boys in the 1970s and '80s. His lawyers acknowledged his guilt on those charges but said he went into church-ordered treatment 20 years ago and returned a changed man, never molesting again.
The case on which the priest was tried involved only one victim, referred to as Jayson B., who claimed he was 11 when the abuse started in the 1990s, during a time that Wempe was a chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Wempe's lawyers suggested that Jayson fabricated his claims in retribution for the abuse of his two older brothers whose cases were thrown out.
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