January 28, 2010 in City

Witness says ranch knew of abuser

Threat of losing money spurred action, she says
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Background and the latest updates

Attorneys for a former Morning Star Boys’ Ranch resident rested their civil case in Spokane County Superior Court on Wednesday after bringing to the stand an 84-year-old woman who testified that she warned the ranch and three bishops about a pedophile priest.

Morning Star attorneys have begun bringing defense witnesses in the case of Kenneth Putnam, who accuses the ranch’s former director, the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, and a counselor named Doyle Gillum, now deceased, of sexually abusing him.

The plaintiff’s last witness was Rita Flynn, a mother of 11 who has lived in the Assumption Catholic Parish, which covers part of north Spokane, since 1959. It was Flynn, a psychologist, who first raised suspicions about Patrick O’Donnell, a pedophile and defrocked priest, in the mid-1970s.

At the time, O’Donnell was an associate pastor at Assumption Parish where the Rev. William Skylstad, now bishop of the Spokane Diocese, was pastor.

Flynn said the parish boys knew that “Father Pat gets his kicks off seeing boys naked,” and when a friend of her son’s told her he had been “seduced” by O’Donnell, she told Skylstad, who became chancellor of the diocese under Bishop Bernard Topel.

The diocese responded, Flynn said, by sending O’Donnell to Seattle for intensive sexual deviancy counseling.

But in 1978, Flynn said, she read an article in the diocesan newspaper “welcoming Father O’Donnell back” to Spokane as a counselor for priests and nuns.

“I thought he was the one that was getting counseling,” Flynn testified, but he returned with a postgraduate degree in counseling.

Outraged, Flynn said, she called Topel to complain, but nothing was done.

“He said, ‘Rita, we have to pray on this,’ ” Flynn recalled.

Soon after, Skylstad was made Bishop of Yakima and Topel was replaced by the Rev. Lawrence Welsh as bishop of Spokane. Flynn brought her concerns about O’Donnell to Welsh, who promised her the priest would never set foot in her parish.

Flynn learned in the early 1980s that O’Donnell was at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch.

Weitensteiner testified last week that Welsh had never told him about O’Donnell, but after receiving “a phone call from a woman who said there was a problem with Pat O’Donnell” it was decided he should not work at the ranch.

Flynn, however, said it wasn’t until she “hit them in their pocketbook” by calling United Way, a fundraising group for nonprofits such as the ranch, that action was taken to remove O’Donnell from the ranch.

Earlier Wednesday, Morning Star attorney Jim King cross-examined Douglas Poppen, the plaintiff’s expert on the standard of care for group homes, who said it was unusual for a group home to use physical restraint as much as Morning Star did with Putnam.

Poppen’s review of the records showed the plaintiff was restrained sometimes three or four times a day and for durations as long as 50 minutes.

In the afternoon, King called Mary Jentges, a former social worker at Morning Star who worked with Putnam while he was a resident between 1988 and 1989.

Jentges said Putnam was restrained to protect him and those around him and that often it was his wish to be restrained. She also said she never saw Weitensteiner or Gillum act in an inappropriate manner.

The defense also called Richard Fleck, a resident of Morning Star from 1963 to 1968.

Fleck rebutted last week’s testimony by William Knapton, who said he was abused by counselors who placed flowers in his and other boys’ rectums and photographed them while he was a resident from 1964 through 1968.

Fleck said such an incident would have been widely known at the ranch and that he had never heard of it.

The defense will call other Morning Star residents and staff members today.


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