Jury Is Impaneled for Child Molest Trial of Retired Priest

By Linda Deutsch
The Associated Press, carried in San Luis Obispo Tribune
January 21, 2006

LOS ANGELES - A jury of six men and six women, many of them religious and most of them with strong concerns about child molestation, were chosen Friday for the trial of Michael Wempe, a retired priest charged with molesting a boy in the early 1990s.

Wempe, who was chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center when the crimes allegedly occurred, has pleaded not guilty, but his attorney acknowledged in November that he did abuse 13 other boys between 1977 and 1986. Eight of them will be allowed to testify at Wempe's current trial, which begins Monday with opening statements.

Charges involving the 13 others were dismissed after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a state law in 2003 that allowed retroactive prosecution of decades-old sex crimes involving children.

The emotional issues involved in the case - sexual abuse, children and religion - led to a complicated and probing jury selection that lasted a full week.

Many prospective jurors were dismissed when they said they could not judge Wempe, 66, fairly. Among the last to be dismissed was a former school psychologist who said he knows too much about the subject to be unbiased.

"I've seen the results of the hell these little guys go through," he said. "It's very difficult."

He said he also was aware of statistics showing that pedophiles rarely recover completely. "There's a high rate of recidivism," he said.

Both sides agreed to dismiss him.

The final panel of 12 includes a woman who was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church for marrying a divorced man. She said she remains a devoted Christian and holds no ill feelings toward the church.

"I'm always kind of saddened by these kinds of cases," she said. "I think priests are our spiritual leaders and they have a greater accountability."

Several of the final panelists said they had read in the newspapers Friday about the arrest of Michael Stephen Baker, another priest facing molestation charges.

Both he and Wempe had cases against them dismissed following the 2003 Supreme Court ruling.

Wempe's case is important because he is one of three priests accused of molesting children after Cardinal Roger Mahony sent them to therapy and returned them to ministry.

The Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese has been sued by more than 500 people for allegedly failing to protect children from clergy abuse. The cases are on hold amid settlement talks.


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