|Marianists Settle Suits for $4 Million
By Abe Levy and Todd Bensman
San Antonio Express
October 30, 2008
Almost two dozen men who implicated a former Catholic clergyman from San Antonio in sexual-abuse lawsuits will split $4 million under a settlement announced Thursday in Pueblo, Colo.
The lawsuits claimed San Antonio resident William Mueller, 70, under the guise of doing psychological experiments, used ether on students at an all-boys Catholic high school to render them unconscious before fondling or sexually molesting them.
"Horrific things were happening to boys put into a Catholic school by their families, which is disgusting," said Jeff Herman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. "To me, (the settlement) is validation of wrongdoing, and that the writing was on the wall."
Mueller was a Marianist brother when he taught music and religion at Roncalli High School in Pueblo from 1966 to '71. It wasn't until 2005 that former students began coming forward with similar stories about him. They sued the Pueblo diocese and the Marianists, which staffed the school.
After teaching band in Colorado, Mueller in 1971 came to San Antonio, where he worked for a decade at Central Catholic High School under the auspices of the Marianist order. He then worked at schools in St. Louis, where the Marianists last year agreed to pay $160,000 to settle a lawsuit over a similar sex-abuse complaint — involving an attempt to use ether to knock the victim out.
The Colorado and Missouri lawsuits contend the Marianist order knew of the abuse and failed to intervene, a charge that the order's officials deny. The settlement of the Colorado suits did not require the Marianists to acknowledge fault.
Although no lawsuits have been filed in San Antonio, plaintiff's lawyers say five alleged victims here have hired them, claiming the same method of sexual abuse.
In the wake of the Colorado lawsuits, as many as 30 people from San Antonio answered a letter from Central Catholic in 2005 that asked alumni to report any abuse by Mueller. School officials said some former students recounted that Mueller tied them up and blindfolded them as part of psychological experiments, but none alleged sexual abuse. All of the local alleged victims came forward beyond the date they could sue in Texas, and none have come forward publicly.
In contrast, the lawsuits in Colorado were possible because that state threw out its statute of limitations on such claims. But according to lawyers familiar with clergy abuse litigation in Texas, the prospect of a judge removing the legal barrier here is slim.
"My belief is that San Antonio is so heavily Catholic that it would be very difficult to get over the statute of limitations defense," said Robert Scamardo, a Houston-based plaintiff's attorney who has brought many clergy abuse lawsuits. "This is happening all over the country, but I don't believe San Antonio judges would do this."
The Marianists issued a statement Thursday on behalf of Brother Stephen Glodek, head of the order, wishing the settlement brings the plaintiffs "closer to peace of heart and healing."
Asked whether the order was aware of any Texas victims, a spokeswoman for Glodek answered no. She did, however, say that Glodek had received a number of phone calls about Mueller from Texans, but refused to elaborate.
On Thursday, Mueller was found living at a West Side home with his older brother.
Dressed in a T-shirt and light brown pants, he refused to respond to questions about the settlement and accusations of sex abuse by saying, "I can't. Please don't bother me. It's hard enough."
Mueller is considered one of the more harmful sexual predators in the Catholic Church because he's not been put behind bars, according to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, a national advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse by Catholic leaders. Two SNAP members protested with signs Thursday afternoon in front of Central Catholic.
"Just in terms of sheer numbers, he's among the most prolific, with victims in three states," said David Clohessy, the group's president. "Who knows the final count?"
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