Children of Catholic Sexual Abuse Victim File A Lawsuit Against a California Diocese After His Death
Last week the children of Catholic abuse victim Jim Bartko took a great first step to memorialize their father’s passing, they filed a lawsuit for the harm done to Jim against the Diocese of Oakland. They were able to do this because a new law in California allows family members to recover non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, on behalf of their deceased relative. We are grateful to Jim's children for continuing his fight for accountability from the Oakland Diocese.
While growing up in Pinole in the early 1970s, Jim said that he was abused by the serial predator priest Stephen Kiesle, then in his very first parish assignment. The college sports professional kept his secret for nearly 50 years, but finally came forward in 2017. Jim also recounted his story in his 2020 book, Boy in the Mirror, and filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Oakland that same year. Four days after announcing his suit at a news conference, Jim collapsed and died. The cause of death was a hemorrhage due to cirrhosis, a result of excessive drinking during the more than four decades of keeping his pain hidden.
The children's attorney said in a press release that “Jim's first drink came at the age of 7, provided to him by Fr. Stephen Kiesle as a means of making Jim more vulnerable to Fr. Kiesle's sexual advances." In Jim's case, his self-medication ultimately led to his premature death.
The lawsuit contends that the Catholic Church failed to prevent Jim's abuse, and we are inclined to agree. Kiesle worked in the Oakland Diocese under two bishops, Floyd Begin and John Cummins. The former Catholic priest has a long history of abusing children, both boys and girls. He is still alive and we believe still dangerous.
Following his first criminal conviction in 1978, Kiesle left the priesthood in 1981 and was officially laicized in 1987. Astonishingly, Bishop Cummins allowed the convicted child abuser to volunteer from 1985-1988 as a youth minister at the same East Bay parish where Jim was abused years earlier. He was only removed by the Bishop after an outraged worker at the Diocesan Office of Youth Ministry complained.
Kiesle's direct supervisor at the time of his first arrest, Father George Crespin, has also been accused of abuse. Fr. Crespin went on to become a high-ranking Diocesan official, working as Chancellor and Vicar General from 1979 to 1994. A lawsuit filed in 2019 by two men accused the Oakland Diocese of covering up abuse by Fr. Crespin and Fr. Kiesle at a Union City parish in the 1970s.
We hope this new law brings justice to the Bartko's and other families in similar positions. We honor Jim for speaking out and calling the Diocese of Oakland to account. We applaud Jim's family for continuing his fight in the wake of his untimely death. We believe that actions like this will help to reveal more truths about the systemic cover-up by Catholic officials and will also encourage other victims, living in darkness and shame, to find the strength to come forward and get help.
CONTACT: Dorothy Small, SNAP Sacramento ([email protected], 530-908-3676), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Joelle Casteix, SNAP California ([email protected], 949-322-7434), Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager ([email protected], 267- 261-0578), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for more than 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org.)