Witness cries for three hours in clergy abuse case

Associated Press/January 30, 2006
By Linda Deutsch

Los Angeles -- A man who claims he was sexually abused by a priest in the 1990s cried for most of three hours on the witness stand Monday, declaring at one point, "I didn't want anyone to know about this."

The 26-year-old witness, identified as Jayson B., described five instances of sexual abuse he said Michael Wempe subjected him to. He said they took place about a year apart, once at Wempe's office at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and other times in parking garages in Wempe's car.

He said he didn't tell anyone what had happened, adding Wempe's long-standing relationship with his family made him a figure of trust.

"It was Father Mike. It was difficult to think anything he could do was wrong," he testified during his second day on the witness stand.

Wempe has admitted molesting 13 other boys in the 1970s and '80s, including Jayson's two brothers, but cannot be tried in those cases because the statute of limitations has expired. He has denied molesting Jayson B, however, and his lawyers say the man fabricated the charges in an effort to seek vengeance for his brothers.

Jayson came forward three months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law allowing the statute of limitations to be extended in sex crimes cases involving children.

Wempe, 66, is the first priest from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to be tried on new charges after being freed by the 2003 Supreme Court ruling.

As Deputy District Attorney Todd Hicks sought intimate details about the alleged assaults, Jayson covered his face and sobbed. Before every answer, he took long gulps of air and covered his eyes with his hand.

"I don't like talking about this," he said. "I didn't want anyone to know about this and now I'm talking about it in front of all these people."

Jurors sat impassively as the testimony became prolonged, few of them taking notes.

Jayson said the abuse occurred after Wempe returned from therapy at a monastery in New Mexico where he had been treated for inappropriate behavior with boys without specific evidence of molestation. The archdiocese later assigned him to be the Catholic chaplain at the Jewish Cedars-Sinai hospital.

Shortly after his return from therapy, Wempe renewed contact with his family, Jayson said. He visited the family's Westlake Village home, the witness said, and invited him to spend the day with him at his office.

"I thought it was really cool that I got to spend time with him like my brothers did," said Jayson. "I got out of the area where I lived. It was a day out."

He said he gave little thought to the fact that the priest was molesting him on each trip.

"I guess I just didn't really know what was happening" he said. "... It wasn't something that was really bothering me. It seemed like something normal."

The former priest calmly took notes in court as Jayson testified. His behavior was markedly different from last week when the jury heard from a series of seven men Wempe has admitted abusing. When they told their stories, the priest wept.

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