The family of a deceased man who said he was repeatedly sexually abused by a Bay Area Catholic priest as a child is suing the Diocese of Oakland.
Under provisions of a new state law allowing suit in such cases, the family and estate of Jim Bartko, former Fresno State University athletic director filed it last week in Alameda County Superior Court.
It alleges that Bartko suffered repeated sexual abuse between 1972 and 1975 at the hands of Stephen Kiesle, then a priest of the Diocese of Oakland and assigned to St. Joseph Parish in Pinole.
It also claims that the diocese knew of Kiesle's "history of sexual conduct and sexual assaults against minors" prior to his alleged abuse of Bartko and negligently allowed Kiesle to continue working with children.
Kiesle was convicted in 2004 of sexually abusing a child, was released from prison in 2009 and lives in Walnut Creek, according to the California Megan's Law website.
He was also convicted in 1978 of sexually abusing children at Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Union City, but was allowed to return to work while on probation, according to Bartko's attorneys.
Kiesle left the priesthood in 1981, but returned to St. Joseph's in 1988 as a volunteer youth minister, Bartko's attorneys said.
He is listed as a "credibly accused clergy" on the diocese's website, which says he was removed from ministry in 1978 and "laicized" - independent of any religious influence - in 1987.
Bartko, who wrote a book about his abuse and subsequent struggles titled "Boy in the Mirror," sued the diocese in 2020 but died at the age of 54, just three days after announcing his lawsuit.
"The cause of death was cirrhosis of the liver, the result of decades of alcohol consumption to cope with his childhood trauma," Bartko's attorneys said in a press release Monday.
"Jim's first drink came at the age of 7, provided by Father Stephen Kiesle as a means of making Jim more vulnerable to Father Kiesle's sexual advances," according to the statement.
The new law, SB447, went into effect Jan. 1 and allows families of deceased victims of child sexual abuse and other crimes to sue for non-economic damages, or "pain and suffering," on their behalf.
Under the previous law, such claims normally ended when the victims died.
"Now it doesn't matter what they die of, the case is still alive no matter what the cause is," said Bartko's attorney, Rick Simons.
"It also means that the gain of stopping these cases and keeping them secret until the end of life, the gain of making as many motions and delaying tactics as possible in the hope that people will die is taken out of the equation," Simons said.
A spokesman for the diocese said Monday that they have not yet received the lawsuit and declined to comment.
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