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Accused Priest Waives Extradition

Church: Pulled off a cruise ship by Alaskan officials, he faces charges of molesting seven girls.

October 01, 2002|RICHARD WINTON and JEAN GUCCIONE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A Los Angeles priest charged with molesting seven girls who was plucked off a cruise ship headed for Russia has waived extradition, Alaska court officials said Monday.

G. Neville Rucker, a retired priest, will be returned to Los Angeles as soon as bad weather clears in the Aleutian Islands and he can be flown 800 miles to Anchorage, where he will be met by Los Angeles police detectives, said Greg Wilkinson, an Alaska state trooper.

During a hearing in the Unalaska District Court, Rucker waived his right to an extradition hearing and told the judge his attorney advised him to return to California. Bail was set at $1 million.

Rucker was one of seven priests removed by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony from the ministry earlier this year when he implemented a zero-tolerance policy for those who previously abused minors.

One of those priests, Michael Wempe, was sued Monday by a 39-year-old former altar boy. Richard Kirby of Leesburg, Va., alleges that Wempe, a retired priest, molested him between 1975 and 1977 while serving at St. Jude Church in Westlake Village. Two others have sued Wempe.

Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators are probing at least four allegations of sexual abuse against Wempe.

Rucker, 82, was arrested Friday by Alaska state troopers aboard the cruise ship ms Volendam after the U.S. Coast Guard, at the request of the LAPD, ordered an unscheduled stop in the remote port of Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, officials said.

The ship was on a 64-day Pacific Circle cruise that began Sept. 23 in Vancouver, Canada.

"We pulled him off the ship and put him on a tugboat in heavy seas. We had him harnessed and surrounded so he had no opportunity

Rucker is charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct with a child. Prosecutors allege he molested seven girls--all under 14--between 1947 and 1976.

At a news conference outside the Los Angeles County Courthouse on Monday, Kirby said he was not only humiliated by the abuse he suffered decades ago, but again after he wrote an opinion piece with Mahony in The Times that advocated an "open and accountable" relationship between the church and victims.

"Since July, I have been depressed and disappointed by the cardinal's deceptions and my role in telling people the church was changing. I feel the same as when I was abused 25 years ago," Kirby said.

Kirby said he felt misled by Mahony's pledge to help victims of sexual abuse by priests.

His attorney, Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., has asked a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to stop church officials from collecting data from sexual abuse victims for use in their defense against future litigation. The lawsuit also names Mahony and the archdiocese, and alleges they conspired to conceal information about Wempe, then used Kirby as part of their public relations campaign.

Attorney J. Michael Hennigan, who represents the archdiocese, called Kirby's request for an independent court official to collect data on abuse "preposterous" and "a publicity stunt."

He said the archdiocese takes histories from only those victims demanding money to settle out-of-court claims. He said Kirby asked for $2 million.

"I think our relationship with him soured after that," Hennigan said. "We're struggling to deal with staffing issues, and he wants $2 million."

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