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Man Testifies to Rage After Court Freed Priests

A witness in the trial of retired Catholic cleric Michael Wempe says he broke furniture. The defendant is accused of a later molestation.

January 26, 2006|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

A Houston man testified Wednesday that he became enraged and threw furniture in his house when he learned that the U.S. Supreme Court had allowed Father Michael Wempe, the Catholic priest who abused him, to walk out of jail a free man.

"I broke things," the witness, identified in court as Greg J., testified in Wempe's trial on more recent molestation charges. "I was very upset. I did a lot of crying, and I did a lot of grieving."

The high court in 2003 barred the retroactive prosecution of decades-old child-molestation cases. Wempe subsequently admitted through his lawyer to 13 past cases of abuse, but denies the current charges.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has said he erred in transferring Wempe to another parish after he completed residential therapy at a center specializing in treating pedophile priests.

Another of Wempe's victims, Richard Kirby, testified Wednesday that his initial impulse, after disclosing his abuse, was to try to reform the church from within. With Mahony, he published an opinion piece in The Times in 2002 titled "Healing the Victims and Healing the Church: Let Us Go Forward Together to Repair What Is Broken."

"A new time has come, and we are ready for change," the column said. "Both of us -- a cardinal and a victim-survivor of sexual abuse by a priest -- pledge ourselves to accept the grace of the moment and to begin to forge relationships to help all victim-survivors be more fully healed."

The article was published as American bishops met in Dallas to discuss the church's sexual abuse crisis.

Kirby said Mahony's lawyer, J. Michael Hennigan, subsequently became upset over "open legal issues" and called him "an enemy of the church."

Kirby presented a legal claim of $2.3 million to the Los Angeles Archdiocese and eventually joined about 560 other plaintiffs in suing the church, he said.

Reached by phone after the court hearing, Hennigan denied calling Kirby an enemy.

Hennigan said he advised Kirby that he needed a lawyer, and that in light of the possible litigation, it would have been unethical for Hennigan to speak to him directly.

The trial will continue today with more testimony from witnesses, including the older brother of the current alleged victim. Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Todd Hicks is trying to establish that the most recent alleged molestation followed a pattern Wempe established with the earlier victims.

Wempe's lawyer, Leonard Levine, said the current accuser was lying to avenge his older brothers, whose criminal case against Wempe also was dismissed. Levine has said Wempe did not abuse anyone after he received treatment.

The Times generally does not identify victims of sexual abuse.

Wempe, 66, faces up to 16 years in prison if convicted of charges of lewd conduct with a minor and oral copulation with a minor.

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