600 Intercourse Abuse Lawsuits Anticipated to Hit Northern CA Dioceses in New Window for Accusers – NBC Bay Space
Hundreds of people accusing priests and clergy in Northern California of sexually abusing them as children are coming forward for the first time. This was made possible by a recently enacted law that allows new lawsuits to be filed based on older allegations previously excluded by the statute of limitations.
Bill 218, signed by Governor Newsom in 2019, opened a three-year window for filing new lawsuits from January 2020. A similar one-year window was opened by the legislature in 2003.
Now, for the first time, attorneys handling these cases have a clear picture of how many alleged victims have been using the new window to date. If the plaintiffs succeed in court, it could deal a staggering financial blow to Catholic dioceses across the state.
“There are just over 600 clergy victims, virtually all Catholic churches in Northern California, who have turned to attorneys,” said Rick Simons, one of the attorneys who manage the hundreds of coordinated cases in Northern California.
Simons said he expected significantly more new cases in Southern California, but many victims could never come forward.
“The number of survivors is much greater because some of them died,” said Simons. “Some will never contact you for their own reasons. And some people simply can never cross that threshold to publicly admit that they have been sexually abused by their priests. “
Since these cases are based on older allegations, Simons said that most of the clergymen named in the new wave of lawsuits have had a history of charges. But he said there will be some new names coming out that were never released.
“Most of the victims were victims of maybe a few dozen priests in Northern California who were the most prolific pedophile serial priests,” Simons said.
One of these priests is Stephen Kielse, who, according to Simons, is known as the “Pied Piper of the Diocese of Oakland”.
At least two of Simon’s new clients accuse the former priest of sexually assaulting them.
“[It started] just playful, like tickling, “said a new plaintiff, a woman from Northern California who does not want to be identified by name. NBC Bay Area refers to her as Jane Doe. “Then it went slowly, and later he asked you to undress. It’s still hard to talk about. I haven’t been in a long time. “
“The next thing I know, just with playful tickling and things, my hands were tied to a chair in his room,” Doe said.
In her civil lawsuit, Doe alleges that she was sexually assaulted several times between 1972 and 1975 by Kiesle at St. Joseph Church in Pinole, where he worked as a priest.
Although Does alleged abuse took place decades ago, she said she was calling in right now because it wasn’t something to talk about.
“It was just something I could never share with my parents [before they passed away]”Said Doe.” It would have devastated her. “
“I’ve never told anyone before,” said Doe.
Another Simons customer, Brian Barnes, also says he was sexually assaulted by Kiesle at St. Joseph’s during the same period.
“Once as a boy there were two of us and we were all told to pull down our pants, pull down our underwear, and get petted,” said Barnes.
Barnes said the church swept everything under the rug.
“That went on for years,” said Barnes. “The church knew what he was doing and didn’t do anything about it.”
“When people ask me why you are suing the church, children should be protected from it,” he said.
A statement by the Survivors Network of the Abused by Priests said AB 218 is a model of how a secular government can help victims of abuse.
“Every time a survivor tells their story, society becomes much safer. We know that many Catholic offenders are alive and unsupervised, which means that they pose a current threat to the communities in which they live. Fortunately, AB 218 is helping fix this problem so survivors can come forward and create safer, more informed communities. In this sense, California has been a model of how the secular government can and should be more involved in protecting the public, facilitating corrective action for victims when possible, and investigating the institutions that enabled and covered up abuse. “
Kiesle, who was convicted twice of child sexual abuse, has been accused of assaulting dozens of children over the course of his career.
Internal church documents, released over time, show that church officials knew about the allegations against Kiesle for years but took no action, which likely resulted in the abuse of more children.
Even after the Church was arrested and convicted in 1978 for handcuffing and molesting two boys, the Church allowed Kiesle to continue working. It was only invalidated in 1987.
Even then, a letter from 1988 showed that the employees were angry that Kiesle had been hired as coordinator of the youth ministry at St. Joseph Church in Pinole.
“After eight months of repeated notifications, nothing was done,” the letter said.
In 2004 Kiesle did not advocate molesting a young girl in 1995. He was sentenced to six years in prison and had to register as a sex offender.
When contacted at his Walnut Creek home, the former priest said he would contact his attorney to comment on the new lawsuits. NBC Bay Area didn’t hear from the attorney.
Catholic Church lawyers are now questioning the constitutionality of the new law in court.
“The legislature’s motive for passing AB218 was to punish a class of defendants by depriving them of their vested immunity,” they write in a recently filed legal act.
They also argue that too much evidence has been lost over the years.
“While passage of time and loss of evidence can affect both plaintiffs and defendants, private corporations like the defendants are necessarily more affected.”
An Alameda County judge is expected to hear the Church’s challenge later this month.
Simons says the Catholic Church is simply trying to avoid accountability.
“Your fear on the church side isn’t that there is a lack of evidence,” Simons said. “Your fear is that there is still far too much evidence out there.”
In a statement, a Diocese of Oakland spokesman said:
“As Bishop Barber has stated on numerous occasions, he continues to work with leaders in the Diocese of Oakland, both lay and clergy, to strengthen our training and education programs so that we can all better understand the signs of predatory behavior, the deep scars caused by child sexual abuse and how we can stop abuse. As a society and as a church we have come a long way in these endeavors, but we can never give up our industriousness. “
In San Francisco, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone admitted in a post on his website that the Church is questioning the new law, but said the court battle will not affect efforts to assist victims of sexual abuse.
“In January 2020, the state of California opened a new” window “on the statute of limitations for sexual abuse of minors. In response, Catholic bishops in the state filed a motion for the provisional issue of the constitutionality of the statute to be established. This motion is inherently limited and addressed a question of constitutional law. It does not in any way deter the archdiocese’s ongoing efforts to provide pastoral and psychological support to survivors, as well as financial compensation through pastoral settlements. “
While Barnes said he kept his abuse a secret for decades, he is now grateful that he decided to go public.
“Getting this story out is a breath of fresh air,” he said. “I realized that I wasn’t the bad guy and that I didn’t do anything wrong as a kid. I am a victim. “