After decades of coping with the childhood trauma of being molested by a priest, Jim Bartko sued the Roman Catholic Church two years ago.
However, the lawsuit was dismissed when he died four days after publicly speaking about it.
A new law has now revived his case that allows his estate to claim damages that he could have claimed for his suffering if he were still alive.
Attorneys for Bartko’s children filed a lawsuit in the Alameda County Superior Court last week against the Diocese of Oakland for allegedly alleging abuse by former Rev. Stephen Kiesle, who lived between 1972 and 1975 in the parish of St. Joseph in Pinole, 18 miles northeast of San did not prevent Francisco.
“They used to call him ‘the Pied Piper’ because the kids followed him everywhere,” said lawyer Rick Simons on Tuesday from Kiesle. “He once said, ‘There wasn’t a single one I didn’t bother.'”
A Diocese of Oakland spokeswoman said it was inappropriate to comment on this point, but noted that Kiesle had been removed from the priesthood.
Kiesle, 74, a convicted child molester, received worldwide attention long after leaving the priesthood in 1987. The Associated Press reported in 2010 that Pope Benedict XVI. – at that time still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – resisted the diocese’s requests to dismiss Kiesle.
Bartko, a longtime director of sports at the University of Oregon, said Kiesle molested him and his best friend overnight at the church parsonage when he was a boy.
Pope Francis on Wednesday expressed his “shame” to himself and the Roman Catholic Church for the extent of child sexual abuse within the Church in France.
For more than four decades he kept the secret, burdened with insomnia and anxiety.
Because of excessive alcohol consumption, Bartko’s marriage collapsed and he lost his job as an athletic director at California State University in Fresno, Simons said.
In rehab he eventually told his story to a therapist and later wrote a book about his experiences called “Boy in the Mirror”.
An emotional Bartko spoke at a press conference to announce the March 2020 lawsuit, which was eventually joined by the childhood friend who had been molested at his side.
This lawsuit was filed during a three year window in which cases of sexual abuse could be filed long after the deadline for making such claims.
Four days later, Bartko, 54, collapsed after exercising in Oregon and died of bleeding from cirrhosis of the liver.
Kiesle was found guilty of lewd behavior in 1978 for handcuffing and molesting two boys and was sentenced to three years probation. He was sentenced to six years in prison in 2004 for molesting a girl.
In 1981 Kiesle applied for resignation from the priesthood with the support of the diocese officials.
But the case languished in the Vatican. A 1985 Latin letter received from AP, signed by Ratzinger, told Bishop John Cummins that the removal of Kiesle was “of serious concern” and that a decision “would require very careful consideration and a lengthy period.”
Church officials in California wrote to Ratzinger at least three times to check in, and Cummins, according to correspondence, discussed this during a visit to the Vatican. A Vatican official once said the file may have been lost and suggested resubmitting materials.
Kiesle was finally desiccated in 1987.
Bartko’s adult son and daughter have an unlawful homicide lawsuit pending against the Church for their own losses. They said their father’s drinking, which started when Kiesle gave him communion wine before molesting him, led to self-medication and alcoholism, which caused his liver disease.
But the new law allows them to make their father’s claims for the emotional and psychological toll that the abuse has taken in his life.
Previously, the survivors of plaintiffs who died in California could claim damages for economic losses such as wages or medical bills, but not for the so-called pain and suffering or disfigurement of their loved ones.
California was one of the few states that did not allow this type of post-death damage.
Senate Bill 447 was enacted by Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom last year to allow this change to happen by the end of 2025.
Proponents, led by California consumer attorneys, said the previous bill “created a perverse incentive for defendants to postpone cases and harass sick or injured plaintiffs in the hopes that the plaintiff would die before trial so the perpetrator would not receive compensation.” for the human suffering they have caused. “
Opponents, led above all by doctors and health organizations, warned of the “collateral damage that such a change would bring to all those involved in our civil justice system”.
Attorney Daniel Hurwitz, who is not involved in the case, said a subset of cases will have the potential to earn more damages and attorneys need to take this into account when assessing the value of the case.
“The damage pattern can change dramatically if the plaintiff dies,” said Hurwitz. “Surely any claimant who has gone through a long period of suffering and suffering will – that legacy will potentially have a greater recovery.”
During the press conference before his death, Bartko said he refused to speak to police about Kiesle when he was 12 and said he had abandoned other children who had reported abuse at the time.
He vowed to continue speaking and then reading a passage from his book that seemed appropriate given the change in law that still gives him a voice in court.
“We’re finally sharing what our traitors hoped we would always take them to the grave because our silence allows them to continue hunting those who are too afraid to speak out,” he said.
This story has been corrected to reflect the attorney’s quote that some plaintiffs could have “potentially larger” recoveries, not “significantly larger” ones.