More sex abuse allegations against Spokane Diocese boys' ranch

The Associated Press/February 15, 2008

Spokane, Washington - Three former residents of a boys' ranch operated by the Spokane Catholic Diocese have filed suit, alleging they were physically and sexually abused by priests and a volunteer.

In the lawsuit filed Friday in Spokane County Superior Court, the men accuse Morning Star Boys Ranch of negligent supervision and knowingly allowing employees to sexually abuse residents.

A former Morning Star director, the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, is among three defendants named in the suit, which seeks unspecified damages. Weitensteiner resigned in 2006. He has denied abusing ranch residents.

The plaintiffs are 39, 48 and 55. They allege the abuse happened in the 1960s, '70s and '80s at the hands of Weitensteiner, the Rev. Patrick O'Donnell and an unidentified volunteer employee.

Morning Star spokeswoman Jenn Kantz said the ranch had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on specific allegations. She said the ranch is a safe and therapeutic place today. The ranch south of Spokane has served more than 1,300 boys with behavioral problems over the past 50 years.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal filings that began in August 2005, alleging abuse at the ranch by Weitensteiner, O'Donnell and other staff members. Thirteen former residents previously sued the ranch over claims of abuse.

In depositions, O'Donnell has acknowledged sexually molesting dozens of boys over three decades. He was named in 66 of the 176 bankruptcy court claims alleging sexual abuse by priests in the Spokane Diocese, more than any other single priest. Last year, the diocese agreed to pay $48 million to settle claims of clergy sexual abuse.

A civil lawsuit against O'Donnell by more than two dozen of his accusers was stayed during the three-year bankruptcy proceeding. The trial could be scheduled later this year.

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