Laurelyn Gunn and her husband, Curtis, beloved trivia.
“Between the 2 of us, we had quite a lot of in any other case ineffective data,” Gunn, 63, instructed The Daily Beast.
On Saturday night time, the couple, who lived at Rossmoor, a 55-plus retirement neighborhood in Northern California, spent just a few hours taking part in a month-to-month trivia occasion held on the close by clubhouse.
“A pal of ours put collectively a fairly robust crew, and one of many guys on our crew was this man named Steve. I by no means knew his final title,” Gunn mentioned. “And we had been strolling dwelling from the trivia recreation when Steve, who was sitting throughout the desk from us, killed Curt.”
“Steve” turned out to be Stephen Kiesle, a disgraced former Roman Catholic priest in Oakland who in 2004 was sentenced to 6 years in jail for sexually assaulting a younger lady a decade earlier at his trip dwelling. Kiesle was launched in 2009 and moved to Rossmoor the next 12 months. He had beforehand served three years probation after pleading no contest in 1978 to misdemeanor costs that he tied up and molested two boys. He was later charged with 13 counts of kid molestation linked to allegations from the Nineteen Seventies, however an excessive amount of time had handed to carry the instances to trial.
Kiesle, now 75, utilized to depart the priesthood in 1981. Years of waffling by the Vatican adopted, and Kiesle was lastly defrocked in 1987. He is now named in some two dozen lawsuits filed by victims and their households, in response to legal professional Rick Simons, who is without doubt one of the attorneys overseeing roughly 1,000 sexual abuse instances at the moment dealing with the Catholic Church in Northern California.
On Saturday, as Laurelyn and Curtis, 65, made the three/4-mile stroll again to their home, they all of a sudden heard a loud rumbling sound behind them. That’s when Kiesle’s automobile jumped the sidewalk and Gunn, who had already buried one husband, discovered herself widowed for the second time.
“I’m in all probability two inches away from being lifeless myself— the automobile truly clipped my elbow,” she mentioned. “Fortunately, I received bruises and scrapes. My husband was lifeless on influence… Curt didn’t die, he was killed. There’s a distinction. Just as if any individual shot him with a gun.”
Most residents at Rossmoor had been unaware of Kiesle’s historical past, together with Gunn herself. But now that individuals are starting to search out out about his previous conviction and myriad claims of kid sexual abuse, they’re “actually upset,” she mentioned.
“We’re a neighborhood of grandparents,” Gunn defined. “And meaning there are grandkids round. And to have a recognized pedophile right here, is just not sitting effectively.”
Kiesle, who suffered solely minor accidents in the crash, was arrested by the Walnut Creek Police Department on costs of gross vehicular manslaughter whereas intoxicated and DUI. Cops booked him into the Contra Costa County jail, the place he stays on $250,000 bail.
“He mustn’t have been in public, he mustn’t have been behind the wheel,” mentioned Gunn. “Now I’m dealing with the remainder of my life without my husband.”
Joey Piscitelli, a volunteer advocate in Northern California for SNAP, the Survivors Network of these Abused by Priests, believes Kiesle ought to have been locked away way back. Had Kiesle ever been correctly held accountable, Curtis Gunn—who performed pickleball with Piscitelli’s sister, a Rossmoor resident—would nonetheless be alive at the moment, he alleged.
“If the Diocese of Oakland had finished their job, and guarded youngsters as an alternative of predators, Kiesle would’ve been in jail eternally and wouldn’t have had the chance to kill any individual,” Piscitelli instructed The Daily Beast. “The man has destroyed quite a lot of lives.”
Piscitelli, who grew up in the realm, mentioned he was not molested by Kiesle however by one other priest in school. However, he attended Kiesle’s church and has interacted with him quite a few occasions—together with whereas protesting exterior Kiesle’s home.
Piscitelli mentioned he has personally heard from folks claiming to have been abused by Kiesle, and that he helps join them with the right authorities, in addition to legal assets, to pursue no matter recourse could also be obtainable.
The indicators had been there, but church leaders did nothing, in response to Piscitelli.
In a 1988 letter to the Diocese of Oakland, youth ministry official Maurine Behrend mentioned she had been shocked to be taught that “a convicted little one molester is at the moment the youth ministry coordinator at St. Joseph’s Parish in Pinole,” specifically, Kiesle.
No motion had been taken over the course of eight months of repeated notifications about Kiesle, which was undermining Behrend’s religion in the system, she wrote.
“A easy telephone name to the pastor from the bishop is all that it will take: ‘We don’t permit convicted little one molesters to work with kids in this diocese,’” argued Behrend, who died in 2020.
Many years in the past, after spearheading an indication exterior St. Joseph’s, which Kiesle then led, Piscitelli was contacted by a girl who had seen him on the news. She mentioned she had been sexually abused by Kiesle when she was 10, however that she had not been in a position to file felony costs as a result of the statute of limitations had run out.
Some of the previous priest’s alleged victims have spoken to Piscitelli in confidence, saying they don’t wish to go public for skilled causes, he mentioned. Others really feel embarrassed, or don’t need their households to know.
In many situations, Piscitelli thinks lawsuits could possibly be one of the simplest ways to attain some modicum of justice if jail is just not a chance.
“There’s a legislation in California, that in case your rape or molestation as a minor ends in your demise, the household can go after the entity accountable,” he defined.
To that finish, Piscitelli pointed to the case of Jim Bartko, an affiliate athletic director on the University of Oregon, who claimed in a 2020 lawsuit that he was molested by Kiesle at St. Joseph’s between 1972 and 1975.
Bartko didn’t say a phrase about the alleged abuse for 44 years, and suffered from insomnia, nervousness, and alcoholism. His marriage fell aside due to his ingesting, which additionally ultimately brought about Bartko to lose his job.
Shortly earlier than submitting swimsuit in opposition to Kiesle, Bartko printed a memoir referred to as Boy in the Mirror: An Athletic Director’s Struggle to Survive Sexual Abuse as a Child. The swimsuit was filed throughout a three-year interval which allowed claims to be introduced that may have in any other case expired beneath California’s statute of limitations.
But 4 days after he filed, Bartko collapsed whereas understanding and died on the age of 54. The lawsuit was subsequently dismissed in gentle of Bartko’s demise.
“He died from liver failure, cirrhosis of the liver, after a lifetime of ingesting,” Bartko’s lawyer, Rick Simons, instructed The Daily Beast.
Earlier this 12 months, Bartko’s kids took benefit of a brand new legislation permitting households of deceased abuse victims to sue for damages, posthumously.
Simons, who’s now representing Bartko’s youngsters, introduced the swimsuit in opposition to the Oakland Diocese for allegedly failing to forestall Kiesle from abusing Bartko as a boy.
“There’s an excellent argument to say [Kiesle] ought to have been in jail for the remainder of his life,” Simons mentioned, noting that Kiesle has lengthy been “handled very forgivingly by the felony justice system.” He mentioned there are “about 20 to 25 [civil] instances at the moment, involving his misconduct, in opposition to the Oakland Diocese.”
The Diocese of Oakland didn’t instantly reply to The Daily Beast’s request for remark. Kiesle doesn’t have an legal professional listed in court docket information, and was unable to be reached.
Now, Kiesle might lastly be held criminally accountable—however for Curtis Gunn’s demise, not for his many years of alleged abuse.
Laurelyn Gunn instructed The Daily Beast her husband is just not solely the second partner she’s outlived, but additionally the second beloved one she’s misplaced to a drunk driver in the previous 4 years.
“In November 2018, my 32-year-old nephew was standing on a sidewalk in Portland, [Oregon], and was hit and killed by a drunk driver who misplaced management of his automobile,” she mentioned. “So my household is now coping with the influence of two comparable however fully mindless deaths.”
Of her late husband, Gunn described him as type, giving, and at all times keen to assist a neighbor.
“If anybody wanted something off their prime shelf, a lightbulb modified, or one of many hinges on the cabinet door got here off, he wouldn’t solely go and repair it, however he would buy groceries online, get the hinge, and he would not ask for something in return,” mentioned Gunn. “He beloved pickleball, he was stepping into enjoying golf, and he actually loved issues like dominos and pinochle and cribbage. He was only a actual pleasant, generous-with-his-time, useful particular person. That’s why I used to be in love with him.”