Eight Who Said Priest Abused Them Can Testify

Times Staff Writer

Eight men may testify that Michael Edward Wempe sexually abused them decades ago to bolster charges that the Roman Catholic priest molested a boy at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in the early 1990s, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Wempe has admitted molesting 13 boys between 1977 and 1986 but denies the more recent crime for which he faces trial. A California law allows prosecutors to shore up sex-crime charges with testimony from a defendant’s past that would not be admissible in other types of cases.

Wempe, 65, was originally charged with the decades-old molestations, but the cases were dismissed in 2003 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a California law allowing prosecution of child abuse cases that took place before 1988.


Wednesday’s ruling will allow eight of the 13 victims whom Wempe admitted molesting to testify in his current trial.

After the high court ruling, the brother of the one of the victims in the dismissed cases came forward and alleged that Wempe, while working as a hospital chaplain, had fondled him during driving lessons and in a parked car.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony assigned Wempe to the hospital after the priest underwent therapy for allegedly sexually abusing other children.

Defense lawyers have said there is no independent evidence that the molestations occurred, and asserted that Wempe, who denies the abuse, passed two polygraph tests.

But prosecutors have called Wempe a “master” child molester. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Curtis Rappe Jr. set a Jan. 17 trial date.

The Los Angeles Archdiocese has been sued by more than 560 people for allegedly failing to protect children from abuse, but the cases have been mired in settlement talks and only a handful of the allegations have been tested in court.