Pedophile Priest Wempe Sentenced to 3 Years

By Jessica Garrison
KTLA [Los Angeles CA]
May 5, 2006,0,2200339.story?coll=ktla-news-1

Michael Edwin Wempe, the pedophile priest whom Cardinal Roger M. Mahony said he regretted returning to the ministry, was sentenced today to three years in prison for molesting a boy more than a decade ago.

The 66-year-old retired priest was found guilty in February in the first significant criminal conviction of a Los Angeles cleric since the church's sexual abuse scandal erupted four years ago.

Wempe received the maximum sentence, but has already served 600 days, so he will spend about another year in prison.

He made no statement to the court.

The case garnered close attention because it came as attorneys for the archdiocese were in settlement talks with more than 560 people suing the church for failing to protect them from abuse by priests. Such a settlement would almost surely be record-breaking, likely to reach hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Wempe case also marked the first time victims of a serial abuser had come into open court to testify. Prosecutors had filed cases against nearly a dozen Los Angeles clerics in 2003, but the cases were dismissed when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a state law that lifted the statute of limitations for child abuse prosecutions.

Wempe, 66, has admitted sexually abusing 13 boys during his 36-year career in the archdiocese -- but denied that he abused the boy whose allegations landed him in court.

A jury found Wempe guilty on one count of orally copulating his accuser in his car sometime between 1993 and 1995 -- but were deadlocked on four others.

The Wempe trial focused renewed attention on Mahony's handling of molesting priests. The cardinal has admitted that he erred when he allowed Wempe to return to the ministry after sending him for treatment for pedophilia in 1987.

After six months at a treatment center in New Mexico -- therapy that Wempe maintained cured him -- Mahony assigned him to the chaplaincy at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He remained there until he retired in 2002, when the clergy sex scandal erupted and Wempe's victims began to come forward.

A year later, in June 2003, he was charged with 42 counts of child sexual molestation, but the case was dismissed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California's law extending the statute of limitations was unconstitutional.

Weeks after that decision, Wempe's current accuser -- whose two older brothers had just lost their day in court against Wempe -- came forward and claimed that he had been abused in the 1990s, within the statute of limitations.

Times staff writers Jean Guccione and Jesus Sanchez contributed to this story.


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