The last few weeks have been a painful time for the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, a Roman Catholic priest and the longtime director of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch.
Accused of physically assaulting boys in the 1970s, the priest described the allegations against him as “misleading” but said in a written statement that he supports an investigation to “set the record straight.”
“I want to emphasize my commitment to the organization, to the boys at the Ranch today, and to our alumni,” Weitensteiner wrote in a statement that was released late Friday night. “I have worked with Morning Star since 1957, and as its director since 1966, and this makes the allegations particularly painful, both to me personally and to the organization.”
Last week, The Spokesman-Review reported that the renowned home for troubled boys had repeatedly allowed the physical and sexual abuse of boys in its care, according to records from the Department of Social and Health Services, court documents and interviews with former counselors and residents.
Members of the local Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests say they have heard from several former residents of Morning Star who said they were beaten and physically abused by Weitensteiner.
“We have heard from numerous boys who were not cared for,” Michael Ross, a co-founder of the group. They’ve remained anonymous because they’re afraid of Weitensteiner, he said. “They’re grown men now, and they’re still afraid.”
The group doesn’t think Morning Star should be shut down, Ross said, but safety precautions must be taken to ensure the protection of the boys who live there. He and others also have demanded that the priest resign from Morning Star.
Ranch officials have emphasized that Morning Star is overseen by the Washington state Department of Social and Health Services and that Morning Star continues to be in good standing with DSHS. There also are no current allegations of abuse against Weitensteiner or the ranch.
But members of the Survivors Network also point out that it usually takes years for victims to publicly acknowledge the pain they suffered. No one has come forward with abuse that happened in the 1990s, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that none of the residents was abused during that time period.
In his statement, the 73-year-old Weitensteiner said he supports a full review of the allegations.
“We need to inform the community and everyone involved with Morning Star Boys’ Ranch of the facts, and I am committed to a review of our past and current policies, practices, and history,” he wrote. “I am confident that a thorough review will reveal the facts, and set the record straight on the misleading allegations that have been made.”
The 20 members of Morning Star’s board will meet again this week to discuss how to conduct an investigation into the allegations. Weitensteiner also indicated through a spokesman that he will answer questions and publicly address the accusations on Thursday.