July 1, 2005 in City

Group urges boys’ ranch head to resign

By The Spokesman-Review

A Spokane support group for victims of clergy abuse will ask today for the resignation of a 73-year-old Catholic priest who allegedly physically assaulted boys at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch.

The Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner’s use of physical discipline at the boys’ home south of Spokane “went beyond what was reasonable,” said Michael Ross, co-founder of the Spokane chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

“We just can’t have him around kids,” Ross said. “It’s horrific.”

The ranch, which is home to 18 boys, opened in 1956.

A ranch spokeswoman did not return calls Thursday. Morning Star officials have refused several requests for interviews with Weitensteiner.

Weitensteiner, the ranch’s director since 1966, admitted to repeatedly striking a boy in the face and pulling a 4-inch clump of his hair, according to a 1978 Child Protective Services report that was recently disclosed.

Former ranch residents and counselors also allege Weitensteiner’s strict discipline went beyond the corporal punishment that was allowed at the time. One counselor said Weitensteiner punched a boy in the face in the late 1970s. Another alleges the priest swung a 2-by-4 at a resident in the 1960s.

Most of the allegations stem from the 1970s, when the state’s administrative rules allowed corporal punishment that did not “bruise or harm” the child. Morning Star no longer allows corporal punishment.

The group plans to hold a news briefing at noon today near the entrance to Morning Star.

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