Abuse Victim Weeps at Wempe Trial

By Linda Deutsch
Associated Press, carried in The Mercury News
January 25, 2006

LOS ANGELES - A sexual abuse victim wept in court Thursday as he told of his love for Michael Wempe, the priest he said betrayed him, and his belief that he failed to protect his younger brothers from similar abuse.

"I can accept that I was abused but I can't accept the fact that I was the gatekeeper, that I let it happen to my brothers," said the man identified as Mark B.

"Every day I look at my brothers and realize it was my responsibility," he said. "I could have called the police. I just didn't have the courage to say anything."

The 42-year-old man, who now lives in Norway, came to the witness stand as a prosecutor prepared to call to the stand his youngest brother, Jason, the sole victim who claims he was abused during a period for which Wempe can be charged criminally.

The former priest has admitted he molested 13 boys in the 1970s and '80s but has not been tried in those cases because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling barring retroactive extension of the statute of limitations on old cases.

Defense attorneys maintain the older brothers helped Jason fabricate a story of later abuse in order to punish Wempe for his earlier behavior.

Jason, who is now 26, claims he was molested by Wempe in the 1990s after the former priest returned from therapy and was assigned by Cardinal Roger Mahony to be the Catholic chaplain at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

His older brother Mark was the seventh and most emotional of the victims to testify so far.

Mark said he had completely repressed all memories of his abuse until June 2001, when he was on the way to his brother's wedding.

He said his brother Lee had invited Wempe to participate.

"I was getting ready for the wedding and something clicked. I was getting visual pieces of a puzzle in my head, like snapshots of abuse," he recalled." It all came rushing out like a waterfall."

He had kept the secrets well, he said, because Wempe meant so much to him and his family.

"I loved the guy," he said, burying his face in his hands and weeping.

Wempe, seated across the courtroom, flushed bright red.

Mark also told a story now familiar to jurors from other witnesses of how Wempe charmed parishioners at St. Jude's Catholic Church in Westlake Village. He added that the former priest also ingratiated himself to his mother and became a surrogate father to himself and his brothers because their own father was always preoccupied with business. He said his mother encouraged the contacts.

"She adored him. She felt he was our connection to God. He was our spiritual ticket," Mark said of the 66-year-old, gray-haired defendant. "He cemented our relationship to the church."

He said his mother was so devoted to Wempe that she would cook for him and volunteered to redecorate his room at the rectory.

Meanwhile, he said Wempe was taking him on motorcycle trips where he would fondle him.

"Every time I came back from a ride with him, I closed down in my mind what had happened," he said. "I buried it deep, deep in my mind and put it away."


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