Sexual abuse survivors sue Vatican for allegedly covering up molestation by priests

Two survivors of alleged sexual abuse by Catholic clergy announced a lawsuit in San Francisco today in federal court against the Vatican alleging the church has done nothing to by current and past popes to stop sexual abuse of children.

Kathy Stonebraker said she was sexually abused by Father Stephen Kiesle at St. Joseph parish in Pinole in the early 1970’s. Stonebraker was around 11 years old and recalled the abuse during Saturday catechisms. She said one time she was taken into a confession booth by Kiesle.

“He would shut the door and push his body up against me and take his pants down,” she said.

Jim Keenan from St. Paul, Minnesota is another survivor named in the suit who said he was abused by a priest as a child. He was later offered a settlement by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Their lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday. It accuses the Vatican, a sovereign nation officially known as the Holy See, of violating customary international human rights law, including 
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Attorney Jeff Anderson provided church documents that show the Diocese of Oakland sent a letter to Pope John Paul II in 1981 asking that Kiesle be removed from the church. Anderson said nothing was done for six years under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who was overseeing abuse cases at the time. Ratzinger later became Pope Benedict XVI. 

Anderson said the case is one example of how the Vatican was and is at the root of widespread sexual abuse of children.

“This suit alleges that the pope, the Vatican, and every predecessor to him are engaged in a large scale systemic violation of the human rights of children,” Anderson said.

The lawsuit is seeking all records the Vatican has about clergy abuse. Anderson said the Vatican has a list of names and documents in 3,400 credible cases of childhood sex abuse worldwide that are known to the Holy See.

“If we were talking about any other industry, that industry would be shut down,” Keenan said. “They need to come clean. They know what they do. They know what they've done and they know what they plan to do. I know in my heart their plan is to not do the right thing.”

Stonebraker said Kiesle was eventually removed from the church. He lives in Walnut Creek as a registered sex offender after he served time in prison for another case, according to the lawsuit.

Anderson has filed two prior lawsuits against the Vatican in the past that did not advance.

“I’m asking them to disclose all of the secrets. It's time,” Stonebraker said.