Ex-Priest's Pedophilia Trial Winding down

By Jean Guccione
Los Angeles Times
February 9, 2006,1,5502677.story?track=morenews&coll=la-story-footer&ctrack=1&cset=true

The sworn testimony of eight men who said they were victims of admitted sexual predator Michael Edwin Wempe is more than enough evidence to convict the retired Roman Catholic priest, a prosecutor told jurors this morning.

"As you can see, ladies and gentleman, the defendant's crimes are terrible," Deputy Dist. Atty. Todd Hicks said today. "His sins are terrible. He has wrecked peoples' lives. He has caused a lot of pain.

"It's time the defendant pays for his sins."

Wempe is now on trial before a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury on five counts of molestation. If convicted, he could face up to 16 years in prison.

Closing arguments were wrapping up. The trial was ending as it began three weeks ago: Wempe, 66, sitting red-faced, silently weeping as he heard the allegations from a series of men he admits he molested as boys.

Wempe has denied harming the one victim he's on trial for molesting. He cannot legally be prosecuted for the other cases.

The defense lawyers pleaded with jurors to judge Wempe on the present charges, not his past admissions.

"Just consider the facts and the law," argued defense attorney Leonard Levine. "I'm sure you will come to the right verdict and that verdict can only be not guilty."

Hicks called Wempe an "unrepentant child molester who will not change his ways."

In 2003, Wempe was charged with molesting children from 1977 to 1986. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a California law allowing old prosecutions was invalid. Wempe was set free.

Last year, Wempe admitted, through his lawyer, that he had molested the 13 boys during the 1970s and '80s. The admission came as part of an attempt to limit damaging testimony in the current trial about old abuse cases.

The previous victims' testimony highlighted how, in parish after parish, the priest surrounded himself with boys -- and for years no church officials seemed to express concern or intervene.

The allegations that the church did not act could prove pivotal not just to Wempe's fate, but also to the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which is facing more than 560 lawsuits charging that it failed to protect children from abusive priests.

Wempe's defense is that he used to be a pedophile but that he was cured after Cardinal Roger M. Mahony sent him to therapy in 1987. The next year, Mahony assigned him to be chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center -- a decision Mahony now says was a mistake. Wempe remained there until 2002, when Mahony asked him to retire.


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