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CALIFORNIA

Abuse Victims Bring Message to Leisure World

Activist group wants residents in Seal Beach retirement community to be aware that two priests charged with molestation live there.

August 20, 2004|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Several activists who describe themselves as victims of sexual abuse picketed at Leisure World in Seal Beach on Thursday and told residents that their grandchildren could be at risk because two Roman Catholic priests who have been charged with child molestation were living there.

"We're troubled that children visiting their grandparents here are being placed at risk," said Mary Grant, regional director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Retired priest Michael Wempe, who is free on bond awaiting trial, and Father Denis Lyons, 70, have moved into homes behind the gated retirement development, according to SNAP and news reports. A spokesperson for Leisure World could not be reached for confirmation.

Last summer, Wempe, 64, was charged with 42 counts of sexually molesting 13 boys between 1977 and 1986. A few days later, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1994 California law that allowed retroactive prosecution involving older sex crimes against children. As a result, criminal charges against Wempe were dismissed.

In the current case, prosecutors allege that Wempe molested a boy in his chaplain's office at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles between 1990 and 1995.

Lyons was charged with molesting a teenage boy more than 20 years ago. But the charges were dropped when the Supreme Court invalidated the law, according to SNAP. The Orange County district attorney's office could not confirm that charges had been dropped.

Grant and a few other SNAP supporters carried printed signs reading "Molesters Live Here" and "Protect Your Grandchild" during a brief protest at Leisure World's main gate and then at a nearby shopping center.

"We're getting a lot of positive feedback," said David Guerrero, 36, of Signal Hill.

Guerrero, who said he was sexually abused as a youth by Father Siegfried F. Widera, joined the rally to support other "victims of perpetrators."

Widera, 62, who was wanted on 42 counts of child molestation, including several in Orange County, was the subject of a yearlong manhunt in Mexico and the United States. He fell to his death last year in the Mexican coastal city of Mazatlan.

Protests to make residents aware "about the wolf" next door and potential harm to children are needed because people don't know who might be living in their neighborhood, said SNAP member Karie Duncan, 44, of Long Beach.

"You've heard of the old adage about the wolf knocking at your door; well, now the wolf is living next door," she said.

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