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Molest victims' mother tells of her trust for accused priest

Feb 7, 2006 | AP

The mother of three men who say they were molested by the priest who befriended their family broke down in tears as she told how she had once loved and trusted the man she now despises.

"Did you love him deeply?" a prosecutor asked Margaret Percival as retired priest Michael Wempe sat just a few feet from her in court Monday.

"Deeply," she replied. "Like a brother. I did. He was part of my family. He was always there."

Asked by Deputy District Attorney Todd Hicks how she feels about Wempe now, she bit her lip and said through tears: "I despise him for what he has done to my children."

Wempe, his face flushed, mopped his eyes with a handkerchief as Percival broke down in sobbing.

He has admitted molesting her two older sons but denies the youngest man's allegation, which is the only claim that could send him to prison. The statute of limitations for crimes committed against the older two has expired.

Percival, 64, a native of Yorkshire, England, who lives in Thousand Oaks, told jurors about her two unhappy marriages and her delight when the charismatic priest took an interest in her sons.

"Wempe would spend more time with my boys than anybody else," she said. "He would pick them up on his motorcycle and take them to do everything a father would do.

"I felt proud that he wanted to spend time with my boys," she said.

She said she never suspected the priest, not even when he was sent away from their parish for a long time. One day, she said, a letter arrived from Wempe announcing he was back as chaplain of Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.

"I was just glad he was back and a few weeks later he came to my house," she testified.

She said he told her he had been in New Mexico on church business but did not disclose he was undergoing treatment as a pedophile.

By then, Percival said, her two older sons had left home but she suggested that perhaps Wempe would like to spend time with her youngest child, identified in court as Jayson B. He was then 8 years old.

"It was my idea," she said, adding the priest seized the opportunity to take the boy on visits to his office at the hospital. It was there Jayson said he was abused.

Although the mother is not a witness to the molestations, she corroborated Jayson's account of his visits with the priest and said she saw the boy undergo a personality change.

"He was a lovely little boy, my little ray of sunshine," she said, weeping. "But as he got older he grew more distant from me. He wouldn't talk to me."

Jayson's 36-year-old brother, Lee B., testified earlier, denying that he was "obsessed" with trying to put Wempe behind bars at any cost.

Wempe's lawyer, Leonard Levine, has suggested that Lee and his brother Mark urged Jayson, now 26, to falsely accuse Wempe of molesting him after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected prosecution of cases such as theirs because they were beyond the statute of limitations.

Wempe, 66, had been charged with crimes against 13 boys, all of which he now admits, but all of those fell outside the statute of limitations.


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