Patrick O’Donnell – whose infamy as the abuser of as many as 66 children was inextricably linked to the scandal that bankrupted the Catholic Diocese of Spokane – also insinuated himself into Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, a Superior Court jury was told on Wednesday.
The former director and a former resident of the nonprofit home for troubled boys testified in the case of Kenneth Putnam v. Morning Star Boys’ Ranch about their acquaintance with the defrocked priest O’Donnell.
Putnam accuses the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, 77, who retired as ranch director in 2006, and a now-deceased ranch counselor, Doyle Gillum, of sexually molesting him while he was a resident of the ranch in about 1986.
Putnam’s is one of 19 lawsuits claiming sexual or physical abuse at Morning Star. The plaintiffs say ranch administrators knew or should have known about ongoing acts of child abuse and did nothing to stop it.
Under questioning by Putnam’s Seattle attorney, Tim Kosnoff, Weitensteiner testified that he has known O’Donnell for decades and that O’Donnell was a Boy Scout in his troop when Weitensteiner was a Scout leader in the early 1950s.
Their acquaintance was renewed in the 1960s after Weitensteiner became a ranch counselor and later – after being ordained a Catholic priest in 1966 – director of Morning Star.
Weitensteiner testified that in the late 1970s or early 1980s, O’Donnell, a child psychologist who frequented the ranch, was preparing to conduct psychological evaluations of some of the boys. However, a woman called Morning Star to complain that O’Donnell was a pedophile who had undergone sexual deviancy treatment in Seattle from 1976 to 1978.
“We decided we better not use him,” Weitensteiner said, adding that he did not believe O’Donnell returned to the ranch after that.
Weitensteiner said he did not notify the bishop or law enforcement about O’Donnell’s relationship with Morning Star.
Also testifying on Wednesday was Paul Baggett, 48, who lived at Morning Star for about three years in the early 1970s. Baggett said that he was repeatedly sexually abused by O’Donnell on ranch property and on trips with the priest away from the ranch.
Baggett testified that he informed the ranch nurse and Weitensteiner of the abuse. Weitensteiner told Baggett he would speak to O’Donnell about it, but neither state child protective workers nor law enforcement were informed of the allegation, Baggett said.
Abuse of Baggett by O’Donnell and older boys at the ranch continued, he said.
Under questioning by Kosnoff and cross-examination by Morning Star’s attorney, Jim King, Baggett acknowledged that he was a recovering drug addict who hallucinated that he heard voices and spoke with Satan while taking prescribed anti-psychotic medication.
Baggett also admitted to King that during a mental health evaluation in the 1990s he had denied having been molested. Baggett told King that he had lied about not having been abused.
“I’m ashamed of it, absolutely,” he said.
Weitensteiner is expected to continue testifying today.
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