Bishop Delayed Disciplining Priest
Santa Rosa Cleric Acted 3 Years after Learning Girls Were Molested
By Peter Fimrite
San Francisco Chronicle
March 21, 2002
The former bishop of the Santa Rosa Diocese testified yesterday that he had waited three years after priest Donald Kimball admitted to him that he had molested teenage girls before taking any action against him.
The Rev. John Steinbock told a Sonoma County Superior Court jury that the dynamic youth minister had admitted in 1987 that he had fondled underage girls. However, Steinbock said, it wasn't until 1990 -- after Kimball admitted molesting six teenagers -- that he decided to take away the popular priest's youth ministry.
"I asked him specifically how many girls he had touched under the age of 18. He said six," Steinbock said, recalling a 1990 meeting in which he confronted Kimball with allegations from several former parishioners about molestations when they were teenagers. "I was a little upset because I had understood it was only two, and now it went up to six."
Kimball's rape and lewd conduct trial also included riveting testimony yesterday from a witness who said he had been threatened when he told the priest that he was going to report the alleged molestations.
The revelations come amid mounting alarm over pedophilia in the priesthood. The issue was catapulted into national prominence with the revelations that a now-defrocked Boston priest, John Geoghan, had been moved quietly from parish to parish by church officials as more than 130 people stepped forward to accuse him of abuse.
It hit the headlines again last week when scores of sex molestation charges were dismissed against Patrick O'Shea, a once powerful figure in San Francisco's Roman Catholic Church.
The case against Kimball, much like those in Boston and San Francisco, involve incidents decades old. Such trials are possible only because many states have moved in recent years to extend the statute of limitations on sex crimes involving children.
Kimball, 58, was a charismatic youth leader who allegedly used his charm and popularity to coerce teenage girls into sex. He is accused of raping a 14-year-old girl in 1977 while he was a minister at Resurrection Church in Santa Rosa, and two counts of lewd conduct with a 13-year-old girl in 1981 at a church he was associated with in Healdsburg.
Five other women, called as corroborating witnesses, testified that Kimball had also molested them when they were teenagers.
WOMEN REPORT MOLESTATION
The allegations first came to the attention of church officials in 1987 when Michael Poirier, a former parishioner and friend of several of the girls, told Steinbock that three women had reported molestations to him.
In an emotional scene yesterday, Poirier, who testified after Steinbock, described how he had tried for two years to get Kimball to apologize to the victims.
He said Kimball, at one point, had asked him how he could apologize if Poirier wouldn't give him a list of the names of the women who had complained. Eventually, Kimball gave Poirier a list, asking him to contact them for him -- but did not include a woman, now a witness in the case, who was particularly devastated.
Poirier said he could only assume that if Kimball did not even remember a woman to whom he'd caused so much emotional distress, it must be because his list of victims was larger than anyone knew. He then contacted Kimball and told him he would report him to the bishop.
"He said, 'If you go to the bishop, someone very close to you is going to be hurt,' " Poirier said. "I said, 'Is that a threat?' He said, 'No, just a fact.' "
Choking back tears, Poirier said reporting Kimball to Steinbock was one of the hardest things he had ever done because, he said, "I looked up to (Kimball). He had a powerful influence on my life for good, and I wanted it to be real. I told him I wanted him to be proud of me, and he looked me up and down and said, 'Well, I don't like what I'm seeing now.' "
Steinbock, now bishop of the Fresno Diocese, testified that he had immediately called Kimball in to question him. He said Kimball admitted touching and kissing only two girls, but contended he had undergone therapy, was repentant and no longer had a "sexual identity" problem.
But as the allegations piled up, Steinbock said, Kimball kept changing his story.
'STOPPED BELIEVING HIM'
When Steinbock confronted him again in 1990, Kimball said there were six girls, but four of them were over the age of 18. He eventually admitted that all six were under age 18, but said he never had sexual intercourse with any of them, Steinbock said.
At this point, Steinbock "stopped believing him" and, out of concern for the safety of "God's children," ordered him to leave his youth ministry.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Chris Andrian, Steinbock said he had never reported the molestations to police because the statute of limitations in effect at that time had run out. He admitted he had not made any detailed inquiry, never found out the ages of the victims and was concerned that if the information got out, there might be "a public scandal."
As Kimball tried to delay leaving his ministry, the bishop said, he offered Kimball a spot at a detention center or a hospital where there were no young women. He offered to recommend Kimball for a spot in the San Francisco Archdiocese, with the condition he not work with youth.
Outside the courtroom, Andrian argued that Steinbock and Poirier's testimony had added nothing to the case involving the two victims named in the case.
"My take is that (Steinbock) was always more concerned about himself and his church than God's children," he said.
Deputy District Attorney Gary Medvigy said during a break that the testimony bolstered the growing body of evidence showing how Kimball preyed on vulnerable teens in his ministry.
"To have him admit molesting six of them is really powerful evidence," Medvigy said. "He was the perfect pedophile. He was clever and smooth, and that's why there were so many victims and why they kept quiet for so many years."
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