Boys Ranch Sued over Abuse

The Associated Press, carried in Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Spokane WA]
August 25, 2005

SPOKANE, Wash. -- The Morning Star Boys' Ranch, a Catholic-run institution for troubled boys, is being sued by two former residents who claim they were sexually abused by counselors.

The lawsuit filed in Spokane County Superior Court on Wednesday contended that in one incident, two counselors forced several boys to pose for photographs with flowers protruding from their rectums.

The lawsuit, the latest in a string of abuse allegations against the ranch, said those photographs were circulated among the staff and residents at Morning Star, and were kept in the desk of the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, the ranch's revered director.

"It was a joke to them," the former resident, identified in court documents as W.K., said in a July interview with The Spokesman-Review newspaper.

Morning Star officials issued a statement Wednesday in which they said: "The ranch has never knowingly allowed or condoned abuse of any kind. Our mission has always been to serve boys in need and we have done everything in our power to fulfill that mission."

Timothy Kosnoff, a Seattle attorney representing the two men, could see no purpose to the photos.

"Why does a middle-aged priest keep photos in his desk of boys with flowers sticking out of their ass?" Kosnoff wondered.

Weitensteiner, who has been accused of physical abuse by some former residents and counselors, went on medical leave last month.

The Spokesman-Review in June reported allegations of physical and sexual abuse at the ranch, including accusations of physical abuse by Weitensteiner, a 73-year-old Catholic priest.

In an interview last month, the priest widely known as "Father Joe," acknowledged striking a boy in the face with an open hand, and hitting boys with a paddle hard enough to leave bruises. But he denied several other, more serious allegations from former counselors and residents.

Morning Star on Wednesday said the newspaper's reporting "has largely been biased" and said it "has let down its readers and our community through its one-sided coverage."

In the lawsuit, a second former resident, Michael Gray, alleged that a counselor at Morning Star repeatedly molested and sodomized him at the ranch in 1981.

Gray, a 37-year-old Spokane graphic designer, said counselor James Clarke assaulted him between 10 and 15 times, in the counselor's apartment and in a laundry room.

"Blind eyes were turned to it," Gray said. "I want to see (Morning Star) shut down."

Clarke could not be reached for comment, the newspaper said.

Gray, who served three years in a federal prison for manufacturing marijuana, said he turned to drugs to ease the pain of the abuse, bu that he is now sober.

Since it opened in 1956, the group home south of Spokane has cared for nearly 1,300 boys, including both private-pay residents and state-placed boys whose care was subsidized by taxpayer dollars. Last year, the state's Department of Social and Health Services paid the ranch more than $500,000 to care for residents.

In its statement, Morning Star said its license is in "good standing" with the agency and has never been suspended.

The court filing listed a series of alleged sexual and physical assaults dating back to the 1950s. Included is an allegation that the Rev. Marvin LaVoy, founding director of Morning Star, repeatedly sodomized and molested a young boy at the ranch in the 1950s. LaVoy died in 1994.

The lawsuit also detailed several occasions where Weitensteiner allegedly beat the boys at Morning Star, breaking a dinner plate over the head of one boy and beating W.K. "over the head and face" and grabbing him by his hair.

According to court documents, the Social Security Administration determined in 1995 that W.K. was "fully, mentally disabled" as a result of his time at the boys' ranch.

Now 50 years old, W.K. suffers from "anxiety and affective" disorders, according to the court filing.

In the 1960s, W.K. starred in a promotional video titled, "Billy of Morning Star." The grainy black-and-white film tells the story of "Billy," a 12-year-old resident who benefits from the structure and discipline at one of the oldest boys' homes in Washington state.

"It does bother me to be the poster boy and have this happen," W.K. said. "I'm a Christian person and I feel bad. But they chose me, I didn't go to them."

W.K., whose parents were deaf and mute, arrived at Morning Star at age 9 because his parents were unable to care for him. He was the youngest boy at the ranch, he said.

According to the court document, at age 12, W.K. and several other boys were sick and confined to their beds. Counselor William Condon and another counselor entered the room with a handful of irises and a jar of Vaseline, the documents said.

"They told us to drop our drawers and lay down on the bed and spread open, greased our butt and stuck the flower in us, and stuck them straight up," W.K. said in an interview. "And then they said the first boy that the first flower that falls over gets hacked (spanked). That's what happened."

Condon died last month, but in an interview this spring denied he ever sexually abused a child.


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