Brothers, recalling abuse, sue archdiocese
The men say they recently recovered memories of molestation.
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Two brothers who say they have uncovered repressed memories have sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, alleging that they were molested repeatedly starting in the 1970s by a priest who was a family friend.

The lawsuit states that brothers Lee Bashforth, 32, and Mark Bashforth, 40, both of Orange County, recovered their memories of the alleged abuse within the past year.

Legal experts say repressed-memory cases can be difficult to win.

Father Michael Wempe, alleged to have fondled the brothers while riding with them on a motorcycle, on camping trips and when the boys were learning to drive a car, now lives in Seal Beach with his mother, said Newport Beach attorney Richard Farnwell, who represents the brothers.

The lawsuit seeking unspecified damages was filed Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has not returned phone calls. A man who answered the door Friday at Wempe's Leisure World home in Seal Beach refused to comment. He referred calls to his Los Angeles attorney, Donald Steier.

Steier said he had not seen the lawsuit. He said he had represented Wempe on other matters but declined to describe them.

Recently released e-mails from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that discuss the Catholic Church's wider sex scandal mention Wempe, who was in charge of the chaplains at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

The e-mail notes that a senior vice president from the medical center wanted to speak to one of the monsignors about Wempe.

Grace Cheng, spokeswoman for Cedars, said medical center staff thought Wempe had retired in February.

The center found out this week that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles actually had removed him.

Cheng said the medical center was notified by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on Friday that Wempe's name had been forwarded to the Los Angeles Police Department for investigation, but Cheng declined to provide more details.

She said Wempe had worked at Cedars since 1988 and that there were no pending accusations of sexual abuse against him.

And she said the Archdiocese of Los Angeles informed the medical center that none of the allegations facing Wempe occurred at the medical center.

Neighbors describe Wempe as friendly and nice. He walks with his mother regularly and often brings cookies to neighbors. He greets them with the same phrase: "It must be bridge day today."

"I can't think of anything but nice things to say about the Wempes. It is horrible when I think of these accusations," Dorothy Johnson said.

Lee Bashforth, recently married and now working in financial services, said he recovered his memory about a month ago -- independently from his brother, who recovered his memory about a year ago.

Mark Bashforth, who runs a software company, said seeing friends at a 20-year high school reunion jogged his memory, but he never told his brother about it until Lee shared his own experience.

The lawsuit alleges that Wempe began abusing Lee Bashforth in 1977 when he was 7 and that the abuse lasted until he was about 16. Lee Bashforth would spend the night with Wempe at his church residence, where there was one bed, the lawsuit alleges.

Both brothers say Wempe fondled them while they were driving and he was a passenger.

Mark Bashforth said his alleged abuse began when he was 12 years old and continued until he was about 15.

"He was to all of us a friend, a spiritual adviser and a virtual family member," said Lee Bashforth.

"Both of us were flattered that someone of his stature in the community and so well regarded would want to spend time with us."

Legal experts say the brothers' uncovered memories will be a tough sell in court.

"Jurors will immediately raise eyebrows over a case like this because it is all too convenient," said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Law School. "That doesn't mean it is not true. It means it is an uphill battle. Right now the church is a big target."

Levenson said repressed-memory cases have a better chance if there is corroborating evidence - witnesses, other victims, or specific details that can be verified independently.

"The victims recovering the testimony on itself is a very thin case to bring. Sometimes they may have some very unusual details regarding the defendant, the defendant's house and the physical characteristics," Levenson said.

[ April 18, 2002: Message edited by: Tinfoil ]