Oakland Diocese sued for abuse cover up

Six people are suing the Oakland Diocese because they say the Vatican and former Bishop covered up sexual abuse.

August 18, 2010 8:01:09 PM PDT
The Catholic Diocese of Oakland is being sued by six people who say the Vatican and former Bishop of the Oakland Diocese John Cummins covered up information that former priest Stephen Kiesle molested children even before he was ordained.

The suits challenge how the diocese handled Kiesle's case when he pleaded no contest to child molestation back in 1978. The lawsuits claim the Oakland Diocese was negligent in hiring Kiesle and failed to warn parents of potential abuse. Kiesle's sexual abuses have cost the church millions in settlement money to many victims.

In 2005, the Oakland Diocese paid out $56 million rather than fight sexual molestation charges in court. Now the diocese has another fight on its hands.

One of the people suing the diocese is Teresa Rosson, Kiesle's own stepdaughter. Rosson, 45, says Kiesle began molesting her in the 5th grade and the abuse continued until she was 40.

"We're here to today to make sure this doesn't happen anymore to any other innocent kids that will have their lives traumatized until they die," said Rosson. "This monster pedophile was in my life for 30 years and he continued his abuse with me and others and it has to stop."

Her lawsuit said the Oakland Diocese knew even before Kiesle was ordained that he molested children in the late 1960s.

"They chose to keep it secret. They chose to not warn the parents of these kids or to report it to police," said Jeff Anderson, Rosson's lawyer.

Kiesle was a priest in the Oakland Diocese until he was defrocked in 1987. But in 1978 John Cummins, a former Bishop of the Oakland Diocese, had already removed Kiesle from his priestly duties in the Oakland Diocese when he pleaded no contest to charges he molested several children. The lawsuit said Kiesle continued working at a church in Sonoma and as a youth minister in Pinole.

In 1981, Cummins wrote a letter to then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger saying Kiesle should be defrocked. Years later, Ratzinger wrote back saying the church needed "more time" for the "good of the universal church." Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI.

The Vatican finally stripped Kiesle of his priesthood in 1987.

"Now to find out that the pope kept him as a priest until 1987, is just devastating," said Rosson.

Five others who say Kiesle also sexually abused them filed a separate lawsuit.

Kathleen McDermott Stonebraker, one of the plaintiffs, did not speak at Wednesday's briefing, but their lawyers say the diocese is now reneging on its promise of lifetime therapy to Keisle's victims who took advantage of the offer.

"They want waivers of privacy. They want limitations on the scope of what is discussed in therapy. They want to interfere with the therapy," said Rick Simons, the plaintiffs' lawyer.

Diocese spokesman Mike Brown said the church could not comment on the lawsuit since it has not been served with the complaint, but he did say that former Bishop Cummins took action in 1979 after Kiesle was arrested for molesting two boys.

"Before he appeared in court, Bishop Cummins called him into his office and removed him from his priestly duties," said Brown.

Brown says after that, Kiesle drifted away from the diocese.

"He resumed his own life. Whatever he did he went off and did on his own," said Brown.

In 2004, Kiesle ended up serving time for sexually abusing a young girl.

Those that filed the suit on Wednesday will have to convince the courts first that the statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims does not apply to their cases.


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