Victim Testifies at Priest's Trial
'I Feel Disgusted,' the Ex-Altar Boy Said. Michael Edwin Wempe, Who Admitted Molesting 13 Boys, Is Charged with Abusing Another at a Hospital

By Jean Guccione
Los Angeles Times [California]
January 24, 2006,1,7996762.story?coll=la-news-religion

The priest took him, a poor boy from a troubled Antelope Valley family, on a motorcycle trip to Hearst Castle, on water and snow skiing outings and to high school golf tournaments.

At the rectory at St. Elizabeth's Mission in Lake Hughes, the boy sat with Father Michael Edwin Wempe and the other priests, eating foods he'd never tasted before. Wempe even gave him an ATM card, warning him to limit withdrawals to $20 a day.

"As an adult, when I think about it, I feel like I prostituted myself. I feel disgusted," the former altar boy, now 40, told jurors Monday, describing the prelude to five years of molestations by the former priest.

Wempe, 66, is on trial for allegedly molesting a boy at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where Cardinal Roger M. Mahony assigned him in the 1990s after a stint of therapy triggered by an earlier sexual misconduct report.

Wempe has admitted through his lawyer to abusing 13 other boys, including the St. Elizabeth's altar boy, but denies the current charges. Wempe was originally charged with earlier abuse cases as well, but they were thrown out when the Supreme Court in 2003 barred retroactive prosecution for decades-old molestations.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Leonard Levine told the jury of six men and six women that although his client molested many children, the current accuser is lying to avenge his two brothers, whose cases were among those lost to the high court ruling.

"He wanted to make sure Michael Wempe went to prison, and he wanted to increase the price the defendant and the church would have to pay" in his civil lawsuit, Levine said of the current accuser. The Times generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse.

But Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Todd Hicks said that the priest's earlier victims, eight of whom will testify, would demonstrate a disturbing pattern in which Wempe zeroed in on their material wants to set them up for sexual exploitation.

By the time of the latest alleged abuse, "he was well-practiced," Hicks said. "He followed this pattern religiously."

The former altar boy testified that Wempe molested him more than 100 times, sticking his hand in his pants or orally copulating him. He said he never told anyone, including his two younger brothers, who he later learned were also among Wempe's victims. "I was getting treated special and I didn't want that to be interrupted," he testified.

The witness said he had never met Wempe's latest accuser or his brothers. He sued the church and agreed to take the stand, despite the public humiliation, to protect other children, he testified.

"My sole purpose of being here right now is so that he doesn't get his hands on another kid," the man said.

Wempe faces up to 16 years in prison if convicted of all five counts of lewd conduct and oral copulation of a minor. Mahony forced him into retirement in 2002.

Another priest, Fernando Lopez, was sentenced last year to six years and eight months in prison for molesting three boys.

Two other priests are awaiting trial. Michael Stephen Baker, who was defrocked in 2002, was charged Monday with eight counts of orally copulating a boy from 1994 to 1995. Retired priest Stephen Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to molesting a 14-year-old boy in 2001 and 2002 during a stint counseling minors at Eastlake Juvenile Hall.

Testimony is set to continue today in the downtown courtroom of Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Curtis B. Rappe.


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