Priest Abuse: Family of Deceased Victim Sued Diocese of Oakland

California, USA
Family of deceased alleged priest abuse victim sues Oakland Diocese

The alleged abuse victim died three days after he filed the lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Church (symbol photo)

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Two years ago a man sued the Roman Catholic Church for sexual abuse by a priest. When he died, the lawsuit was dismissed. But a new law allows his relatives to re-file the lawsuit.

Jim Bartko was over 50 years old when he revealed in 2017 that he had been molested by a Catholic priest as a child. The longtime head of the University of Oregon Sports Department had been silent for decades, drowning his trauma in alcohol.

Raised in the small town of Pinole in California, he became an acolyte as a child under the then priest Stephen Kiensle – the priest who was first convicted of child abuse in 1978. Between 1972 and 1975 he is said to have molested Jim Bartko in the parish of St. Joseph. Bartko processed his experiences in the book “Boy In The Mirror”. In March 2020, he filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Church. But three days later he collapsed after training in a gym and died of a hemorrhage from cirrhosis of the liver.

Jim Bartko’s children are suing Oakland Diocese

A new California law has revived his case and allows his loved ones to claim damages he could have claimed for his suffering if he were still alive. As reported by the AP news agency, the lawyers of Bartko’s children filed a lawsuit with the Alameda County Superior Court against the Diocese of Oakland last week for allegedly failing to prevent the abuse by former priest Stephen Kiesle. The diocese is said to have known of similar offenses by the priest even before the alleged abuse of Bartko and, despite this knowledge, negligently allowed Kiesle to continue working with children.

Bartko’s adult son and daughter also believe that their father’s alcohol consumption and the resulting liver disease are due to the alleged abuse, which began when Kiesle gave him communion wine before molesting him. Due to excessive alcohol consumption, Bartko’s marriage broke up and he lost his job as an athletic director at California State University.

The new law enables children to make their father’s claims about the emotional and psychological stress that the abuse put on his life. Until now, the bereaved of plaintiffs who died in California could claim compensation for economic losses such as wages or medical bills, but not for the so-called pain and suffering or disfigurement of their relatives.

Father Stephen Kiesle convicted of child molestation

The Stephen Kiesle case gained worldwide attention in 2010 when it was revealed that Pope Benedict XVI. – back then when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – resisted the diocese’s requests to remove Kiesle from office quickly. As the “New York Times” reported at the time, Kiesle himself is said to have asked for his release in 1981 together with the then Bishop of Oakland, John Cummins, in the Vatican. He also addressed the then Pope John Paul II directly. Cardinal Ratzinger then asked for further information, which the Diocese of Oakland had also sent him in February 1982. Ratzinger did not get in touch again until three years later and asked for more time in the said letter. He also referred to the priest’s still young age. Kiesle was 38 at the time.

After Kiesle was sentenced to three years probation for the first time in 1978 at the age of 31 for child abuse because he had tied up and molested two boys, he was initially no longer allowed to work as a pastor, according to the Diocese of Oakland. But he went into treatment and in 1985 volunteered again in the youth service of one of his old congregations. He was finally removed from office in 1987.

Sources: AP, NBC, DPA,, New York Times


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