A mediation effort designed to resolve ongoing legal problems faced by the Catholic Diocese of Spokane now includes the Morning Star Boys Ranch, according to court records.
It sets up the possibility that a far-reaching agreement would sew shut most if not all of the outstanding clergy sex abuse litigation that continues to plague the two Catholic ministries a decade after the scandal broke in Spokane.
The upcoming mediation will be led by U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan, of Oregon.
It is the first time Morning Star has agreed to discuss settling the cases.
Attorney Jim King, who represents the ranch and its former director, the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, signed onto the mediation effort, thus postponing the second of 19 child sex abuse lawsuits against the ranch, many of which accuse Weitensteiner, according to court records.
Although the ranch and the diocese are separate entities, the two have become entwined in similar litigation. Men who alleged they were abused at the ranch have been winning monetary awards from the diocese through a special bankruptcy settlement plan. The ranch was staffed by diocese clergy and counselors.
Those awards have left the cash-strapped diocese in danger of defaulting on its legal and financial obligations. The result could trigger foreclosures on parish property.
Meanwhile many of these same abuse victims are pressing ahead with separate civil lawsuits against the ranch and Weitensteiner in Spokane Superior Court. There’s one case in federal court.
A superior court jury ruled in favor of the ranch during the first Morning Star trial earlier this year. The decision buoyed the ranch’s long-held assertion that the allegations are bogus and that Weitensteiner has been falsely accused.
But with new Catholic Bishop Blase Cupich pushing for mediation as a possible answer to the problems, all the sides have agreed to talks.
Staff writer Kevin Graman contributed to this report.