|Witness Says He Wouldn't Commit Violence against Molesting Priest
By Linda Deutsch
Associated Press, carried in Monterey County Herald
February 2, 2006
LOS ANGELES - One of Michael Wempe's sex abuse victims testified Thursday that the former priest stopped molesting him after they were involved in a 1986 car crash and Wempe "was sent away to pedophile camp."
The 36-year-old witness also said he believes the accident happened when Wempe lost control of the car while assaulting him.
He acknowledged under cross-examination by Wempe's lawyer that he previously said that while he "could not rule out the possibility" Wempe was molesting him when he crashed the car, he wasn't certain.
"I am now entirely sure," said the man, identified only as Lee B. He is an older brother of the man Wempe is on trial for allegedly molesting.
Lee testified that the Catholic church paid for the accident and noted that he didn't see Wempe for a long time afterward.
"He was sent away to pedophile camp," he said, a reference to a monastery in New Mexico that Wempe was dispatched to by the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese. After being treated there for inappropriate behavior with boys without specific evidence of molestation, he was assigned to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center as a hospital chaplain.
The 66-year-old former priest has acknowledged molesting 13 boys in the 1970s and 1980s, including Lee B. and another of his brothers. But he has denied assaulting the youngest of the siblings, identified in court as Jayson B.
Charges could not be brought in the other cases because the statute of limitations had expired, and Wempe's lawyer has said Jayson fabricated his story in an effort to seek vengeance for his brothers.
Jayson, 26, testified previously about being in the car when it crashed, saying he still has a piece of glass lodged near his eye. He said he was in the back seat and couldn't see much of what was happening in the front seat.
Lee was the latest in a string of witnesses to testify about the molestations Wempe has admitted. All of the men said the priest's enticements included allowing them to drive a car.
At one point, he lashed out at the church saying, "I think the behavior of the archdiocese was atrocious in my case and everyone else's. They felt more about the reputation of pedophile priests than they did about children."
He was once quoted as saying Wempe's victims might be tempted to "take things into their own hands," but he testified Thursday that he would never commit violence against the priest.
"He's taken enough from me already," he said. "I'm not going to trade my life for committing a crime."
He also said he fell into a deep depression after memories he had repressed for years began to surface in 2002.
"I broke down," the witness said. "I didn't understand why I was experiencing this now, where this information was coming from. I was flooded. It was as clear as if it happened the day before."
He said his symptoms escalated as more of the repressed memories came back.
"I suffered from panic attacks and anxiety attacks," he said. "I sometimes get so overwhelmed with recall of what he did to me that I can't breathe and my body shuts down."
He said his abuse began in the 1980s and lasted nine years. His first memory of Wempe touching him inappropriately was when he was making confession at the age of 7, he said.
It did not occur in a traditional confessional, he said, but "in some sort of a room with a yellow glow."
"From the start of confession, he'd have me on his lap," Lee said. "He would get inside my head and tell me what my sins were and tell me my penance and he would be fondling me."
Lee said he was too young to know if Wempe was doing anything wrong. Later, he said, he would sleep in the priest's bed at church rectories in Ventura County.
"As I look back now, his hands were always on me in one way or another," he said.
He added he was shocked to learn of the abuse of the others, including his brothers, by a priest who had all but become a part of their family.
"This was a relationship that was very important to me and it was all based on a lie," he said. "He told me he loved me. He didn't love me. I was just a sexual object, one among many, apparently."
Lee, who eventually reported Wempe to authorities, said he was angry when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a California law extending the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases.
"I was angry about what I believed to be a mistake by the Supreme Court justices," he said. "I felt five of them didn't know the nature of child sexual abuse."
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