One of two former Catholic priests suspected of molestation and who both worked in Santa Paula parishes, has been arrested.
Michael Wempe, 63, who was an associate pastor at St. Sebastian’s Catholic Church in Santa Paula during the 1980s, was arrested Thursday and is being held on $2 million bail on suspicion of molesting five boys, 7 to 16 years old when the incidents occurred, in the 1970s and 1980s.
Wempe was arrested in a Seal Beach retirement community where he lives with his mother; he was due to be arraigned on Monday.
Wempe served at four Catholic parishes in and around Ventura County; in about 1987, when Wempe was an associate pastor at St. Sebastian Church, Cardinal Roger Mahony sent him to a sexual disorders treatment center in New Mexico.
Although a former St. Sebastian Church official reportedly said he was unaware of any abuse allegations against Wempe during his tenure in Santa Paula and that the priest was well-liked, he reported Wempe to Mahony while he was at St. Sebastian’s due to violating archdiocese policies for dealing with children.
A parish member said last week that Wempe was strange he particularly liked working with the kids, and was very good at it, but there was something odd about him.
The parishioner, who asked not to be identified, added that recollections about Wempe could be colored due to the allegations of sexual abuse, but still, there was something about him that made several people slightly uncomfortable, but nothing thought to be alarming.
After treatment in New Mexico, Wempe was reassigned as chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles; Mahony had him removed from the priesthood after publicity surfaced over a year ago of the allegations of sexual abuse.
The allegations stem from Wempe’s service in Ventura, San Diego and Los Angeles counties.
In Ventura County, Wempe also served at St. Jude Church in Westlake Village, St. Rose of Lima in Simi Valley and Sacred Heart Church in Ventura. Two men, brothers, allege that Wempe molested them while they were members of St. Jude Church and that sexual assaults also occurred at Sacred Heart Church.
Although details are scarce, an unidentified priest who served at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is also being investigated for sexual abuse of children although it is still unclear if he molested any children at the Santa Paula church.