OAKLAND — Survivors of sexual abuse by a local priest have filed two lawsuits against the Diocese of Oakland and church officials who they said allowed abuse by Stephen Kiesle to continue unchecked.
“The diocese could have stopped this,” said Teresa Rosson, one of the accusers. Rosson, who is Kiesle’s stepdaughter, said he began sexually abusing her from the time she was 11 years old until 2001. She is now 48.
Instead, she said, “They delivered him into our churches with our kids.”
She said the abuse began when Kiesle served at St. Joseph’s parish in Pinole in 1972 — the year he was ordained. There, the lawsuits argue, he also abused several of the other plaintiffs, who chose to remain unnamed.
In 1978, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor lewd conduct charge for tying up and molesting two boys, ages 11 and 12, at Our Lady of the Rosary in Union City. He served there from 1975 to 1978.
He was put on three years’ probation and sent to therapy. He was later taken in by a pastor at St. Columba’s in Oakland.
Then, from 1985 until 1988, Kiesle volunteered as a youth minister at St. Joseph’s in Pinole. He was removed after a worker at the Office of Youth Ministry complained. By then, he was no longer a priest.
In 2002, Kiesle was arrested and charged with molesting three girls at Santa Paula, a Fremont parish, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was accused in a 2004 lawsuit of having molested a boy while at St.
Joseph’s. Also that year, he was sent to prison for sexually abusing a girl in 1995 at his Truckee vacation home. He now lives in a gated retirement community in Walnut Creek with Rosson’s mother. They married in 1982, after he left the priesthood.
“Nobody protected me,” Rosson said Wednesday during a news conference in front of the Diocese headquarters to announce the lawsuits. The diocese includes 84 parishes in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
Spokesman Mike Brown said the diocese removed Kiesle from his duties as a priest in 1978. Afterward, Brown said, Kiesle “drifted away” from the church. Letters from diocese officials supporting his withdrawal from the priesthood portray him as a man with psychological, emotional and sexual difficulties.
“It does seem clear, now, with hindsight, that quite probably Father Kiesle should never have been ordained,” Bishop John Cummins wrote in 1981. He had reported Kiesle’s behavior to the Vatican, including the future pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, but nothing was done.
Cummins is named in the lawsuit because he did not report Kiesle to police.
In the past six decades, at least 64 Roman Catholic clergy members accused of molesting children have served in nearly three-quarters of the parishes in the Oakland Diocese — five times more than the church has acknowledged since the scandal erupted, according to a 2008 MediaNews analysis of court and church records.
Many accused clergy members were ordered to get treatment and then shuffled to multiple parishes for decades, not reported to law enforcement or removed from ministry, the analysis found.
The Catholic Church knew Kiesle was a serial predator, said Joe Piscatelli, a member of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. But church officials thought they were above the law, he said. “A trail of poison leads directly to the Vatican.”