February 08, 2006

Chronicling Priest's Pattern of Abuse

Los Angeles Times

By Jessica Garrison and Jean Guccione, Times Staff Writers

Retired priest Michael Edwin Wempe is older now, with curled, arthritic-looking hands and watery, crystalline eyes. As he has sat in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom these last three weeks, red-faced and silently weeping, it has been difficult to see him as his victims did: as the hip, long-haired cleric on a motorcycle who, by his own admission, seduced and molested 13 boys during his 36-year career in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

But as the witnesses recounted, Wempe, now 66, had an eye for needy boys from troubled families: He invited them for dinner in the rectory, and then took them into his bed while the other priests slept. He put them on the front of his motorcycle and in his car, and then fondled them as they drove in one case crashing in a bloody accident. After violating them at night, he rewarded them with extra-large pieces of Communion wafers at Mass the next morning.

Four years after the clergy abuse scandal exploded across the country and in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Wempe's trial, which is expected to go to the jury this week, offers a rare picture of a serial abuser. After years of simmering scandal and secret negotiations, eight men have come into open court to confront the priest who molested them.

Their testimony highlights how, in parish after parish, the priest surrounded himself with boys and for years no church officials seemed to express concern or intervene. The allegations that the church did not act could prove pivotal not just to Wempe's fate, but also to the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which is facing more than 560 lawsuits charging that it failed to protect children from abusive priests.

Posted by kshaw at February 8, 2006 09:13 AM