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Boys’ ranch says priest accused of molestation wasn’t on payroll

Wed., Aug. 17, 2005, midnight

A review of tax records found no evidence that a Catholic priest accused of molesting dozens of boys in Spokane was ever paid to work at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, the ranch’s spokeswoman said this week.

Spokeswoman P.J. Watters said Morning Star reviewed Internal Revenue Service forms from 1976 through 1983, but found “no record of any payment to Patrick O’Donnell.” The ranch has acknowledged that O’Donnell visited the boys’ home south of Spokane in the 1970s.

O’Donnell, who has admitted to molesting more than a dozen boys, said in a 2004 deposition that he conducted “evaluations” at the ranch over the course of several months, and that he took boys from the Spokane Diocese to Morning Star to play basketball. He also stated that in the early to mid-1980s, Bishop Lawrence Welsh instructed him to cease consulting with Morning Star. A Catholic parishioner also testified that O’Donnell was working at Morning Star in 1982, though she did not specify in what capacity.

Timothy Kosnoff, a Seattle attorney who has been contacted by several former Morning Star residents, said that regardless of whether O’Donnell was a paid employee, he “was able to remove kids and sexually abuse them.

“We’ve just really begun to examine what went on at Morning Star,” Kosnoff said. “As lawsuits are filed and depositions and discovery are obtained, more will be learned.”

Last month, the ranch’s longtime director, Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, took a temporary leave from the ranch amid allegations that he physically abused some of the boys in his care. At the same time, Morning Star’s board of directors announced it would conduct an independent investigation into the state-licensed facility’s policies and procedures.

In June, The Spokesman-Review reported that a 15-year-old former Morning Star resident named Timothy D. Everts killed himself in 1978 after confiding to a friend that O’Donnell forced him to perform oral sex.

“We have no record, no evidence that something happened,” Watters said. “If it did happen, we’d be the first to want to know.”

In response to a request from The Spokesman-Review and with the permission of Everts’ family, the ranch released Everts’ record. However, after consulting with its attorney, Morning Star determined it was not required to release approximately seven pages of notes about Everts that were contained in the ranch’s log books, Watters said. She said those notes do not include any reference to O’Donnell.

Everts arrived at the ranch on July 6, 1977, and quickly gained a positive reputation among staff, according to Watters.

“As a matter of fact, one of the staff recommended that he be the ‘citizen of the week’ and another staffer said he was an angel,” Watters said. The records “show him working hard … digging a ditch one day and vacuuming another day.”

According to the records, Everts went on two overnight camping trips in July and also went on an outing with Father Joe, which was “probably a lake outing,” Watters said.

Everts ran away on Aug. 3 and Aug. 11. According to Watters, he received five “hacks” – administered with a wooden paddle – after he lied about smoking. Watters said it is the only hacking of Everts noted in the records.

Everts was last seen by Morning Star staff on Aug. 25, and according to friends and family, spent the next several months living with friends. He committed suicide in early 1978 when police arrived to return him to the ranch.

Friends and family told The Spokesman-Review that Everts said he was physically and sexually abused at Morning Star.

According to a statement released by Watters, the ranch’s board of directors continues to seek a third-party review of 35 years of records that are being obtained from the Department of Social and Health Services. The statement said two entities declined to conduct the review because of the “scope of the project.”

J. Robert Durgan, president of the ranch’s board of directors, said Morning Star is also seeking accreditation from the Child Welfare League of America.

“The accreditation is something that would definitely help prove to ourselves and to the public that our organization is working well within the guidelines of like organizations around the country,” Durgan said.

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