Family of church abuse victim sues under new law – NBC Los Angeles

After decades of dealing with the childhood trauma of being molested by a priest, Jim Bartko sued the Roman Catholic Church two years ago.

But the lawsuit was thrown out when he died four days after speaking about it publicly.

A new law has now revived his case, allowing his estate to seek damages he could have claimed for his suffering if he were still alive.

Attorneys for Bartko’s children filed a lawsuit last week in Alameda County Superior Court against the Diocese of Oakland for allegedly failing to prevent former Reverend Stephen Kiesle’s abuse that occurred between 1972 and 1975 at St. Joseph de Pinole Parish, 18 miles northeast of San Francisco.

“They used to call him ‘the Pied Piper’ because wherever he went the kids followed him,” attorney Rick Simons said of Kiesle on Tuesday. “He once said, ‘There’s not one I haven’t assaulted.'”

A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Oakland said it would be inappropriate to comment at this stage, but noted that Kiesle had been removed from the priesthood.

Kiesle, 74, a convicted pedophile, came to the world’s attention long after he left the priesthood in 1987. The Associated Press reported in 2010 that Pope Benedict XVI – when he was then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – had resisted calls from the diocese to defrock Kiesle.

Bartko, a longtime administrator for the University of Oregon’s athletic department, said Kiesle molested him and his best friend during slumber parties at the church rectory as a child.

Pope Francis on Wednesday expressed his “shame” for himself and for the Roman Catholic Church at the scale of child sexual abuse within the Church in France.

He kept the secret for more than four decades, plagued by insomnia and anxiety.

Due to excessive drinking, Bartko’s marriage fell apart and he lost his job as athletic director at California State University, Fresno, Simons said.

While in rehab, he eventually told his story to a therapist and later wrote a book about his experience called “Boy in the Mirror.”

An emotional Bartko spoke at a press conference to announce the trial in March 2020, joined at one point by the childhood friend who had been abused by his side.

This lawsuit was filed during a three-year window allowing sexual abuse cases to be brought long after the deadline for filing such claims had expired.

Four days later, Bartko, 54, collapsed after working in Oregon and died of hemorrhage due to cirrhosis.

Kiesle was convicted of lewd conduct in 1978 for tying up and assaulting two boys and sentenced to three years probation. He was sentenced to six years in prison in 2004 for assaulting a girl.

In 1981 Kiesle asked to leave the priesthood with the support of diocesan officials.

But the matter was dragging on in the Vatican. A 1985 Latin letter obtained by AP bearing Ratzinger’s signature told Bishop John Cummins that Kiesle’s removal was of “grave importance” and that a decision required “very careful consideration, which requires a longer period of time”.

Church officials in California wrote Ratzinger at least three times to register, and Cummins discussed it during a visit to the Vatican, according to correspondence. A Vatican official said at one point that the file may have been lost and suggested resubmitting the documents.

Kiesle was finally defrocked in 1987.

Bartko’s adult son and daughter have a pending wrongful death claim against the church for their own losses. They said their father’s drinking, which began when Kiesle gave him communion wine before assaulting him, led to the self-medication and alcoholism that caused his liver disease.

But the new law allows them to pursue their father’s claims for the emotional and psychological toll the abuse took on his life.

Previously, survivors of deceased plaintiffs in California could seek damages for economic losses such as wages or medical expenses, but not for the so-called pain and suffering or disfigurement of loved ones.

California was one of the few states that did not allow this type of afterlife damage.

Senate Bill 447 was signed into law last year by Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom to allow this change to take place until the end of 2025.

Proponents, led by Consumer Attorneys of California, said the previous law created “a perverse incentive for defendants to delay cases and harass ill or injured plaintiffs in the hope that the plaintiff will die before trial, allowing the wrongdoer to avoid paying damages for the human suffering they have caused.

Opponents, led mostly by doctors and health care groups, warned of the “collateral damage such a change would cause to all stakeholders in our civil justice system.”

Attorney Daniel Hurwitz, who is not involved in the case, said a subset of cases will have the potential to win more damages and attorneys will need to consider this when deciding. evaluation of the value of the case.

“The damages table can change dramatically if the plaintiff dies,” Hurwitz said.

At the press conference before his death, Bartko said he refused to speak to Kiesle police when he was 12, saying he had let down other children who had reported abuse to the police. ‘era.

He vowed to continue speaking out, then read a passage from his book that seemed appropriate given the change in law that continues to give him a voice in court.

“We are finally sharing what our traitors hoped we would always take to our graves because our silence allows them to continue to prey on those who are too afraid to speak,” he said.


This story has been corrected to reflect the attorney’s quote that some plaintiffs may have “potentially larger” recoveries, not “considerably larger”.