New Spokane Priest Abuse Trial To Start Soon

NPR News Spokane/January 7, 2010

A new era of clergy sex abuse cases is about to begin in Spokane. Preliminary hearings are underway in a case of a man who claims he was molested at a Catholic group home for boys. It's the first of what could be as many as 20 trials to be held during the next two years. KPLU's Doug Nadvornick reports.

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The Catholic Church set up the Morning Star Boys Ranch about 50 years ago to help straighten out wayward young people, mostly boys.

The facility had a sterling reputation in the community. But that started to crumble several years ago, when some former residents alleged that they were molested. Many accused the former director, Father Joseph Weitensteiner. He's now retired and has denied wrongdoing.

The ranch is fighting the charges in court. That's a contrast to the strategy used by the Spokane diocese when it was confronted with priest abuse allegations. In 2007, it agreed to pay 48-million dollars to more than 170 victims and avoid a public trial.

Now, the first of the Morning Star trials is ready for the courtroom. Kenneth Putnam claims Father Weitensteiner and a now-deceased employee sexually abused him in the late 1980s. He says that treatment started his spiral of drug abuse and legal problems. Attorneys for Morning Star say they'll try to prove Putnam's trouble started before he came to the ranch.

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