Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Unanimous jury rules in favor of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch

by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register

(From the Feb. 25, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Joseph Weitensteiner (IR file photo)

On Feb. 12, a unanimous jury found in favor of Father Joseph Weitensteiner, former director of Spokane’s Morning Star Boys’ Ranch and a priest of the Spokane Diocese since 1966, regarding accusations made by a former resident of the Ranch.

The jury’s unanimous verdict answered “no” to each of six claims made by Kenneth Putnam.

“I’m certainly pleased for Father Weitensteiner that the jury was able to determine what kind of man he was, that he didn’t engage in the kind of conduct alleged. That’s the most important thing,” said Jim King, Father Weitensteiner’s attorney. “To some extent, it vindicates his reputation as a caregiver for the last 50 years in this community. He’s a good man, and I think the jury figured that out.”

Eighteen more lawsuits remain.

Among other points, the jury found that Morning Star was not negligent; that Morning Star was not a proximate cause of Putnam’s injury; that Morning Star did not intentionally inflict emotional distress on Putnam; and that Morning Star did not engage in a civil conspiracy with others to conceal knowledge of childhood sexual abuse from Putnam and civil authorities.

“Over the litigation, there have been many, many people who have been at the ranch at different times who have called to express admiration and respect for Father Joe,” said King. “The numbers have been impressive. The emphatic response and support for him have been equally impressive.

“I was blessed to have a great guy as a client,” King said.

Father Weitensteiner, 77, was ordained a priest of the Spokane Diocese May 14, 1966. Although the vast majority of his ministry as a priest – indeed, before ordination – was dedicated to the boys of Morning Star, he also served as pastor of St. Patrick Parish, Spokane, from June 1982-July 1997.

In a 2006 Inland Register interview, he reflected on his priestly ministry, especially highlighting the celebration of Reconciliation.

“I’m always inspired when people come and speak to God through the ministry of the Church,” he said. “I’m telling you, it helps you become a better person. You think, ‘hey, wait a minute, this person is holy.’ That very often impressed me, especially people who have been away (from the church) for a while, and they come back and just pour out their heart, like I say, to God through the ministry of the church. That just really impresses me, and it always did….”

The next trial is scheduled for May 3.

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