January 22, 2006

Ex-priest's trial marks new offensive in church abuse scandal

San Francisco Chronicle

By LINDA DEUTSCH, AP Special Correspondent

Sunday, January 22, 2006

(01-22) 08:50 PST Los Angeles (AP) --

Michael Wempe's attorney doesn't deny his client was a child molester in the 1970s and '80s, but he maintains the once-revered priest never committed the crime he is going on trial for molesting a boy in the 1990s.

"These new charges were fabricated," defense attorney Leonard Levine said on the eve of Wempe's trial, which is scheduled to begin Monday with opening statements. "He's being prosecuted not for what he's charged with but for what he did 20-30 years ago."

That could prove problematic for jurors, who must put aside thoughts of what Wempe did before as they attempt to determine if he is guilty of the crime he's charged with now. Even if they are able to clearly separate in their minds the old charges from the new, said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, they "will still pause before they let a priest go when he has done so much harm to so many."

"They would be worried about the message it would send," Levenson said.

Posted by kshaw at January 22, 2006 01:40 PM