Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a national support group for victims of sexual abuse by religious authority figures, came together Tuesday outside the Cathedral of Christ the Light in support of a newly filed sexual battery and negligence lawsuit against Father Stephen Kiesle and the Diocese of Oakland.
The complaint, filed in Alameda County Superior Court Tuesday, alleges that Kiesle sexually molested a female victim—named Jane Doe in the document to protect her anonymity—in 1995. This is the eighth sexual battery complaint brought against Kiesle this year.
“We’re here to beg anyone who saw, suspected or suffered from Father Kiesle’s crimes to come forward,” said David Clohessy, SNAP national director, at the press conference. He exhorted anyone with relevant information to “get help, call police, expose wrongdoers and, most importantly, protect kids.”
The press conference brought out about half a dozen SNAP supporters who held signs calling victims to action and photos of children abused by priests. “I lived in silence for 38 years,” said Kathleen McDermott Stonebraker, a SNAP supporter who filed suit against Kiesle in August. “I’m hoping, by doing this, that more victims come forward.”
Kiesle, who left the priesthood in 1981 and was officially defrocked in 1987, is no stranger to defending himself in the justice system. He has battled numerous accusations of child molestation stemming back as early as the 1960s.
In 1978, Kiesle pled no contest to criminal charges of sexually molesting two boys and was sentenced to three years probation. In 2004, he was convicted of child molestation and sentenced to at least six years in prison. He was released from prison in 2009 and now lives as a registered sex offender in a gated community for seniors in neighboring Walnut Creek.
The suit also names Oakland’s diocese as a defendant in the case for negligence. “We’re bringing the complaint against the Diocese of Oakland for their negligence in warning their parishioners that Kiesle was a dangerous man,” said Sarah Odegaard, an attorney for the plaintiff. “He was dangerous and he was allowed to be around children.”
Mike Brown, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Oakland, said the diocese has not yet seen the suit and was reluctant to comment on the accusations. “If lawsuits are served, we mount a defense,” said Brown. “But, until then, we don’t have a direct comment on the proceedings.”
In the meantime, SNAP encouraged those involved in abuse by a priest to come forward and speak out about their experiences. “When victims, witnesses and whistleblowers stay silent, there’s no chance,” said Clohessy. “Predators keep walking free and predators keep molesting children.”