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Church Faces More Charges of Abuse

Victims Sue Roman Catholic Diocese, Archdiocese Under Law That Abolishes Time Restrictions

Jan 3, 2003 | Tri-Valley Herald

Attorneys sued the Roman Catholic diocese of Oakland and the archdiocese of San Francisco on Thursday, charging two priests with sexually molesting their clients, one in Pinole and Union City and two in San Jose, when the victims were boys nearly three decades ago.

The cases were filed under a new law which took effect on New Year's Day. The law eliminates time limits and allows molestation victims of many years ago to have their day in court.

So many cases are coming up that in Southern California on Thursday, attorneys for alleged victims were discussing the possibility of consolidating all cases statewide, or at the very least, potentially hundreds of claims in Los Angeles and Orange County.

While the local lawsuit also names the church bishops, the attorneys said they hope the dioceses will release their records about pedophile priests like the archdiocese of Boston did.

Standing across the street from St. Joseph's Catholic Church, attorneys Richard J. Simons, of Hayward, and David E. Drivon, of Stockton, said the priest in the Pinole/Union City case, was Steven Kiesle, who was a parish pastor at St. Joseph's and at Our Lady of the Rosary, in Union City.

The plaintiff is a Bay Area man in his 30s, who wishes to remain anonymous the lawyers said.

The suit states the molestations occurred in 1975 and 1976, when the plaintiff was 12 and 13. Because of his allegations, Kiesle faces two counts of child molestation stemming from his time at St. Joseph.

Earlier the man told police that Kiesle responsible for supervising youth activities fondled him in the Contra Costa County church's rectory in 1976, and again six months later in the rectory at Santa Paula Catholic Church in Fremont.

Simons said the plaintiff is the same man who earlier went to police. However, the lawsuit does not mention the Fremont or Union City churches.

In a prepared statement, the plaintiff said his experiences have left him with considerable emotional scarring.

"I have held the burden of living with this terrible and embarrassing secret for years," he said, "I was raised in a Catholic environment. I was taught to respect and obey priests, nuns and God."

After the molestations, he said, he was frozen with fear. "I told no one for years. If I couldn't trust a priest who could I trust?"

Kiesle has been defrocked and currently is free on bail on a number of molestation charges involving both boys and girls in Fremont, Union City and Pinole.

Kiesle was also a recent suspect in the 1988 disappearance of 7-year-old Amber Swartz, who lived down the street from the priest in Pinole, and of a Tahoe girl who lived near his Truckee vacation home. However, he has not been linked to either case.

One of two plaintiffs in the San Jose case, is Dennis Kavanaugh, of San Jose, who said he and another man were molested by Rev. Joseph Pritchard in 1971 and 1972, when Kavanugh was 15 at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in San Jose. Pritchard died in the early 1990s. The second plaintiff has not been named.

Although filed in San Francisco, the suit also names the San Jose diocese.

In Oakland, Sister Barbara Flannery, the diocese chancellor, said she had not seen the lawsuit and the diocese has not received a complaint from anyone in the Pinole area.

"We offer our apologies to these victims of sexual abuse," Flannery said. "The diocese feels very badly when we get a complaint. It's tragedy that anyone is ever sexually molested. But it's a greater tragedy when it is done by a priest."

Sister Flannery and other church officials have held an ongoing dialogue with molestation survivors since 1995.

She said the diocese faces two other lawsuits, in Fremont and Hayward, involving Robert Freitas, a priest, and George Francis, a priest who has been dead for some time.

In Pinole, attorneys Simons and Drivon said the new law gives victims of clerical molestation one year to go to court and seek justice. "It's important that the word be spread," Simons said.

"We want everyone to know who is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a priest that there is indeed a remedy available, but it lasts for only a short time and they should come forward. They are not alone.

"All these (molestation)survivors suffered in silence and shame for many, many years and from a survivor's standpoint, there is no statue of limitations.

"Our hope is that someone out there ... holds a little piece of the puzzle, a little piece that will help solve the Amber Swartz case as well as assist our clients and other survivors," Simons said.

Through a coincidence, Simons represented Amber's parents in a civil lawsuit after Amber was hit by a car at age 4.

Both attorneys are involved in a number of lawsuits aimed at priests and the Bay Area Catholic Church hierarchy. Drivon represented a Stockton molestation victim in a civil suit against the Stockton diocese that in 1998 resulted in the first damage award against the church in California. The jury initially awarded the defendant $32 million.

The church later settled the lawsuit out of court for an undisclosed sum.

In his statement, the plaintiff in the Pinole lawsuit said he is still living with the impact of what occurred.

" It will never go away. I think he should go to jail for a long time. He should be restricted from being around children. He has used his power and position to deceive his congregation and destroy the innocence of little children, including myself."

Kiesle, who called himself "the Pied Piper of the neighborhood" faces 13 counts of child molestation in three different counties, including nine felony counts in Alameda County.

Kiesle, who is free on bail, was arrested May 16. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and is scheduled to appear at the Fremont Hall of Justice on Jan. 23.

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