Clergy sex abuse survivor speaks out, says Bay Area priest still protected Catholic Church

A survivor of clergy sex abuse spoke out Thursday in front of the Diocese of Oakland about a priest who molested him, claiming the man is still being protected by the Catholic Church.

Joey Piscitelli said he was 14 years old when he was molested by Father Stephen Whelan in 1969 and 1970 at Salesian High School in Richmond. Whelan was found liable for the molestation by a civil jury in 2006 and the verdict was upheld in several appeals.

“They sent a therapist from this diocese to ask me what happened even though I hadn’t reported it,” he recalled.

Piscitelli said he recently discovered Whelan was listed in an official Catholic directory as being a part of the Institute of Salesian Studies at Don Bosco Hall in Berkeley under the auspices of the Oakland Diocese. Piscitelli said he felt compelled to speak out because Whelan is a violent predator.

An attorney for the Salesian Order said Whelan, 79, is retired and considered a restricted priest. Although Whelan lives with the Salesian Order, he is not allowed to be involved in public ministry and is not allowed to be alone with or have physical contact with minors, among other restrictions.

“The Salesian Order has been very vindictive and very unremorseful. They’ve spent millions fighting me for years. They haven’t stopped. They keep enabling him probably to spite me,” Piscitelli said. “I think the Bishop of Oakland probably shouldn’t be a part of this. He should remove this guy from ministry and do his job.”

A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Oakland released the following statement:

We want to first express our concern for those who have been sexually abused by members of the clergy. As Bishop Barber has stated several times, and most recently in his letter to the Catholics of the Diocese of Oakland released on Sunday, Oct. 7, the Diocese of Oakland is committed to “stop the scourge of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults” and to ensure our children are safe.

Father Stephen (Steven) Whalen is a member of the Salesian order. He has never been an employee of the Diocese of Oakland or a priest of the Diocese of Oakland. He has served in the past as a priest within the boundaries of the Diocese of Oakland, including as vice principal of Salesian High School in Richmond from Sept. 1, 1969 to August 1971.

Our records indicate in 2009 the Salesians informed the Diocese he was a “priest on restriction,” meaning he could not minister as a priest, and was assigned as bursar of the local community of Salesians at Don Bosco Hall in Berkeley, since Aug. 15, 2009. Again, he is not a priest or employee of the Diocese, nor did the Salesians request permission for him to serve as a priest within the boundaries of the Diocese. Since he is not operating as a priest in the Diocese, the Bishop has no authority to require him to move away from the Diocese.

The diocese said in the coming weeks, it plans on releasing names of priests who are credibly accused of abusing children.

Melanie Sakoda with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests showed up to support Piscitelli. 

“I’m glad they’re going to name names, because it helps survivors know that the priests that have abused them have been acknowledged… but I’m guessing it’s not going to be the complete story,” she said.

A former pastor, Tim Stier, said he has spent years protesting outside the Diocese of Oakland on Sundays to speak out about the abuse in the church.

“We have been pleading with them for years and years to be transparent and they’ll only be transparent because they’re afraid parishioners will stop giving collection and stop coming to church,” Stier said.

The Diocese of San Jose plans to release names of credibly accused priests next week as part of an effort to be more transparent in response to the global clergy sex abuse scandal.