Priest Held Again in Alleged Sex Abuse
Earlier charges against the former Cedars-Sinai chaplain
were dismissed after a high court ruling. New allegations aren't
affected by that decision.
By Richard Winton - LA Times
September 11, 2003
A retired Roman Catholic priest reassigned by Cardinal Roger M.
Mahony to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after the priest was accused
of molesting boys in the 1980s was arrested Wednesday on suspicion
of sexually abusing a child in his chaplain's office at the hospital
from 1990 to 1995.
The Rev. Michael Wempe was one of 10 priests whose charges of sexual
abuse were dismissed this summer after a U.S. Supreme Court decision
invalidated the prosecution of decades-old molestation cases. The
63-year-old cleric had been charged in June with molesting five
boys between 1977 and 1986 in Westlake Village, Palmdale and Ventura.
He was released from jail this summer in the wake of the court ruling.
The new allegations, prosecutors said, cover a time period not
affected by the high court decision.
The latest reported victim, now 24-years old, came forward only
after hearing the other charges against Wempe had been dropped,
authorities said. Wempe, who was arrested while eating breakfast
at his Seal Beach retirement home, is being held in lieu of $2-million
Mary Grant, spokeswoman for the California chapter of Survivors
Network for those Abused by Priests, said the latest allegations
show the consequences of failing to fire and report abusive priests.
"This cardinal transferred a priest who molested a new victim,"
After learning of the sex abuse allegations, Mahony ordered Wempe
to complete psychiatric treatment and then transferred Wempe to
Cedars-Sinai in 1988. Mahony later acknowledged he should not have
reassigned Wempe without telling hospital officials about the accusations.
Instead, Mahony told The Times last year, he should have reported
Wempe to police and forced him to immediately resign.
"There had been absolutely no allegations against Wempe following
his therapy and during his longtime placement at Cedars-Sinai,"
said Tod Tamberg, the archdiocese spokesman. "We thought he
was one of our success stories. If this allegation proves true,
it will be a bitter disappointment."
Donald Steier, one of Wempe's attorneys, also expressed surprise.
"I am shocked. I cannot help but be suspicious of the timing
of these allegations after the Supreme Court decision," he
said, maintaining his client's innocence.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Dan Scott of the Family Crimes
Bureau, said the alleged victim was 11 when the abuse began in 1990.
Wempe was a family friend, the victim told authorities, who allegedly
molested him in a car and the chaplain's office, Scott said. The
man was not a patient at the hospital at the time.
The alleged victim, who was not identified by authorities, came
forward after the Supreme Court ruling, which has affected as many
as 800 cases statewide and more than 200 in Los Angeles County.
The high court decision voided a state law that gave prosecutors
one year to file charges after they were notified of alleged sex
crimes, regardless of when the crimes occurred. Prosecutors say
that under the ruling they can file charges only for alleged abuse
that happened after 1988.
Wempe's accuser told sheriff's investigators that he "was
too ashamed to come forward earlier because he believed that Wempe
would be convicted and sentenced on the testimony of the other victims,"
Cedars-Sinai officials said they first learned of abuse allegations
against Wempe after he left the hospital last year.
"Based upon a review of our security records, we have confirmed
there were no complaints or claims of misconduct regarding Father
Wempe during the time he was assigned by L.A. Archdiocese to the
hospital," said Grace Cheng, vice president of public relations.
Mahony forced Wempe to retire last year from the Cedars chaplaincy
and from the active clergy, along with six other accused priests,
as he retroactively applied a zero-tolerance policy for sex abusers
in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
Mahony told The Times he had ordered Wempe to a New Mexico treatment
facility after the allegations in the 1980s. After treatment, Mahony
said, experts told him that Wempe could be trusted to work in a
place without access to children, such as a jail or hospital. Mahony
said he was unaware that Cedars had a pediatric unit. Mahony said
he did not report the abuse allegations to police until last year.
He said he thought a therapist who treated Wempe in the 1980s had
reported it earlier.
Other alleged victims of Wempe said Wednesday that the arrest showed
how the L.A. Archdiocese acted like the Boston Archdiocese under
former Cardinal Bernard Law transferring pedophiles who continued
to abuse children.
"Mahony and Bernard Law were reading from the same operating
manual," said Lee Bashforth, 33, an alleged victim of Wempe
during the 1970s. "They sacrificed young people to these sexual
Bashforth and his brother were ages 8 and 12, respectively, when,
he alleged, Wempe began abusing them at the Westlake Village parish
of St. Jude where they served as altar boys. Bashforth was among
the five alleged victims Wempe was accused of molesting in June.
"I am just so sorry this had to happen, you know, that these
kinds of things happened," Wempe said after he was released
the following month. "I'm happy that it's been dismissed."
Wempe's church personnel files were among those demanded by the
Los Angeles County Grand Jury. The archdiocese has fought the release
of documents reflecting communications between top church officials
and priests, claiming it would violate their civil rights.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said the Wempe case
"underscores the importance of ongoing litigation with the
Los Angeles Archdiocese relative to records sought as criminal evidence
in allegations of priests abusing children."