Case Closed On Old Abuse Charges

Michael Wempe gets into a car after being released from the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles on Friday, June 27, 2003. Wempe is one of two former priests who were released from jail, freed by a U.S. Supreme Court decision which invalidated the extension of a statute of limitations on old molestation cases.
In a ritual that takes just a few seconds, cases against priests accused of molesting children are being thrown out. Not because they were proven innocent -- but because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled California can't use a new law to go after old sex crimes.

"I'm happy that it's been dismissed," said Father Michael Wempe last Tuesday.

The case against the priest was thrown out on Tuesday, even though ten people told prosecutors Wempe abused them, reports CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales.

Lee Bashforth says he was 7 and his brother 13 when Father Wempe began molesting them.

"That was the kid I was before Wempe got to me,'' he said, pointing at a picture of himself as a child.

"We were innocent children ....," Bashforth said. "The Supreme Court decision was devastating. They've basically told me that they don't care about what I've been through ... Wempe's gonna go free now. He's back on the streets already. .... The way I feel, I've been re-victimized by the Supreme Court."

But Father Wempe is the victim, according to his defense attorney.

Donald Steir, who represents at least 20 priests, says the Supreme Court's ruling prevents these aging men from possibly dying in prison.

"There can't be prosecution of these antiquated allegations," Steir told Gonzales. "They're no longer a threat to society."

William Hodgman, L.A.'s chief sex crimes prosecutor, says while Catholic priests have attracted most of the attention, this ruling could affect any molester accused of crimes before 1988.

"I don't think anyone gets a free pass at molesting a child," he said. "We are reviewing cases where we have convicted, proven child molesters who are going to be hitting the streets of Los Angeles and the rest of California and that is just a scary prospect."

Statewide in California that means perhaps eight hundred accused, admitted or convicted molesters could soon have their records wiped clean. They won't have to register as sex offenders and no criminal action can ever be taken against them for those crimes.