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Accuser Says Priest Twice Molested Him in Cedars-Sinai Office

Michael Wempe has admitted abusing the man's brothers but denies latest allegations.

January 28, 2006|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

The 26-year-old man at the center of retired priest Michael Wempe's sexual abuse trial testified Friday that Wempe fondled him in the early 1990s, several years after the priest had been treated for pedophilia and Cardinal Roger M. Mahony had returned him to the ministry.

The man, identified in court as Jayson B., said Wempe molested him twice when he was 11 and 12 as he sat on the priest's lap using a computer in Wempe's office at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where Wempe was a chaplain.

"He at first had a hand on my waist, and eventually moved it to my crotch area," Jayson B. testified, fighting back tears as he spoke for much of his two hours on the stand. "Eventually, he moved his hand from the outside of my pants to underneath and had his hand on my crotch underneath my shorts."

Wempe, 66, faces 16 years in prison if convicted of lewd conduct and oral copulation with Jayson B. He has admitted through his lawyer that he molested Jayson's two older brothers and 11 other boys in the 1970s and 1980s, but has denied sexually abusing Jayson.

Wempe's lawyer, Leonard Levine, accused Jayson B. of lying to avenge his two brothers, whose criminal case against the priest was thrown out in 2003 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the accusations were too old to prosecute.

Jayson B. said his alleged abuse began in 1991, soon after he and his mother attended a party at St. Mary Catholic Church in Palmdale celebrating Wempe's 25th year as a Roman Catholic priest. Then, he said, he enjoyed spending time with the priest, but now he despises him.

"I hate Wempe," the man testified. "He used his relationship with our family and the trust we had in him and my vulnerability to abuse me."

Earlier, Jayson's oldest brother, identified as Mark B., testified that he and another brother, Lee, spoke of their molestation for the first time in 2002. At the time, he said, Jayson denied that Wempe had abused him.

The older brothers sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, as did more than 560 other individuals, for failing to protect them from predatory priests.

Mahony has said that he erred when he allowed Wempe, who had been accused of inappropriate conduct with minors and sent to a New Mexico treatment center, to return to the ministry in 1988. But Levine, the accused priest's lawyer, has said Wempe was cured at the treatment center and has not abused anyone again.

On cross-examination, Mark B. recounted his frustration with the Catholic Church's handling of clergy sexual abuse complaints.

"This was a period of time when the church and Cardinal Mahony were doing their best to camouflage and bury the crimes that these pedophile priests committed," he said. "I felt it was the church and Mahony against all the victims," he said. "And I felt so alone."

At the end of his questioning, Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Todd Hicks asked Mark B. if he had colluded with his two brothers to fabricate the current charges against the now-retired Wempe.

"Absolutely not," the witness answered. "I'm an honest and truthful person."

The trial is being held in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom of Superior Court Judge Curtis B. Rappe.

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