Priest Resigns As Head of Spokane Boys Ranch Amid Abuse Claims

The Associated Press, carried in Seattle Post-Intelligencer
April 21, 2006

Spokane, Wash. -- A priest has resigned as director of a Roman Catholic-run home for troubled boys that is being sued by former residents who claim he abused them during the 1970s and '80s.

The resignation of The Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, 73, director of the Morning Star Boys' Ranch for all but 10 years of its 50-year history but, was announced in a statement issued Thursday.

A Morning Star spokesman said Weitensteiner, widely known as Father Joe, was not available to talk to reporters Thursday.

Dan Kuhlmann, who became acting director when Weitensteiner left on medical leave last July, will continue in that position pending selection of a regular replacement, the ranch said. Morning Star did not say when it will name Weitensteiner's replacement.

In a letter to supporters, Weitensteiner wrote that his life had been "inexorably intertwined" with Morning Star, which has had 1,300 boys in residence over the years.

"As the ranch prepares to celebrate its golden jubilee, the boys we serve today are as much or more in need of your help and understanding as our boys were 50 years ago," Weitensteiner wrote.

In the announcement, Bishop William S. Skylstad said he was "profoundly grateful" to Weitensteiner.

"Rather than walking away from difficult and challenging circumstances in people's lives, Father Joe has addressed this need with compassion, dedication, and love of those who come, and a deep sense of hope in the goodness of every person," Skylstad said.

Eight former residents sued Morning Star last year, claiming they were subjected to sexual and other abuse. Two men claimed that Weitensteiner molested them in separate incidents in the 1970s and 1980s during boat trips on Lake Coeur d'Alene in northern Idaho, a charge the priest has vehemently denied.

The ranch said Weitensteiner passed a lie detector test.

"This intensive test clearly supports the fact Father Joe told the truth and is telling the truth," said Robert Durgan, the president of the home's board of directors. "What troubles me is that he felt he had to do this at all. His integrity is rock solid."

Timothy D. Kosnoff of Seattle, a lawyer for the eight plaintiffs, wrote in an e-mail to The Spokesman-Review that the diocese is "in denial" about Weitensteiner and other priests cited in the case.

"We look forward to the civil trials of these cases so that these abusers and the organizations that enabled them are finally held accountable under the law," Kosnoff wrote.

Last year, citing records from the Department of Social and Health Services, court documents and interviews with former counselors and residents, the newspaper reported that Morning Star officials repeatedly had allowed physical and sexual abuse dating back to 1978.

Last summer, Weitensteiner acknowledged striking a boy in the face with an open hand and hitting boys with a paddle hard enough to leave bruises but denied more serious accusations from former counselors and residents.

He apologized to former residents who said his corporal punishment left them bruised and injured but maintained that Morning Star never allowed or condoned abuse.


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