Accuser's Letter Suggests Diocese Knew of Abuse
By Patrick Malone
The Pueblo Chieftain [Pueblo CO]
May 4, 2006
A letter from a former Roncalli High School student to church officials alerted them to possible sex abuse by a former Pueblo parochial school teacher more than three years before the local Catholic diocese acknowledged it was aware of any allegations.
The student wrote that he was rendered unconscious by Brother William Mueller, a teacher at Roncalli, but was unsure whether he was sexually abused, according to a letter obtained Wednesday by The Pueblo Chieftain.
Lawyers for former Roncalli High School students who are suing the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo and the Society of Mary religious order say they have proof that both entities have been disingenuous by denying that they were aware of sexual abuse allegations against a former brother before lawsuits containing the accusations were filed last fall.
To date, 17 lawsuits have been filed in Pueblo district court against the diocese and the Marianist Province of the United States alleging that Mueller subdued Roncalli students with ether and molested them.
The suits allege negligence on the part of the diocese and the Marianist order, which staffed the all-boys high school.
The suits claim both entities were aware of allegations of sexual impropriety by Mueller, yet allowed him to have continued access to victims by leaving him in school settings.
Representatives of the diocese and the Marianist order have repeatedly denied that they were aware of sexual misconduct accusations against Mueller before the first lawsuit was filed in September.
Jeffrey Herman, of the Miami law firm of Herman & Mermelstein, which has filed each of the suits alleging abuse by Mueller in Pueblo, said Wednesday: "We were surprised to hear comments from both the Diocese of Pueblo and the Marianists that they first learned of allegations against Brother Mueller in 2005. We have documents showing they were well aware of Mueller before that date. We continue to fight for victims' rights including seeking the truth of what the church knew and when they knew it."
According to correspondences obtained Wednesday by The Chieftain, one of Mueller's accusers brought the matter to the attention of the diocese in June 2002.
A response from the diocese assuring the accuser that its leaders took his allegations seriously was dated Jan. 30, 2003. A letter to the accuser from Marianist Provincial Stephen Glodek, dated Oct. 19, 2005, refers to contact between the order and the accuser in February 2003.
In his letter to Bishop Arthur Tafoya dated June 22, 2002, the accuser wrote that national news of widespread sexual abuse by clergy compelled him to share his experience with the diocese because he was concerned Mueller still had access to teenage boys.
The accuser claimed in his letter that as a senior at Roncalli in 1971, he was asked by Mueller to participate in a psychological experiment after school. He alleges that Mueller crept up behind him and placed a cloth soaked in chloroform over his nose and mouth, rendering him unconscious.
"I'm not sure how long I was out, possibly an hour or so," the letter reads. "Since I was unconscious, I have no proof that (Mueller) sexually abused me while I was out. He started asking questions after I came to and then I left. Since I have no proof of what happened to me while I was unconscious, I do not wish to pursue the matter further. I'm letting you know what happened in case Mr. Mueller is still teaching and has access to young teen age (sic) boys. I hope you will check into that and if he is still teaching, please watch him closely."
The author of the letter wrote that he waited more than 30 years to report the incident because he was "too embarrassed and humiliated at the time to tell anyone."
On Wednesday, Monsignor Mark Plewka, chancellor of the Pueblo diocese, stood by his past denials and said the 2002 letter from an accuser to the diocese did not contain any allegations of sexual abuse.
"It's ambiguous at best," Plewka said, referring to the allegations contained in the 2002 letter. "Did it say (the student was sexually abused) in a clear sentence? No it didn't. But we took it seriously and forwarded it to the Marianist provincial. We did what we thought was right at the time. What I want to state bluntly is that there was no attempt to cover up anything."
A copy of Plewka's response to the letter was obtained Wednesday by The Chieftain. It states that the Sexual Misconduct Review Board of the diocese took up the issue of the accuser's letter during its July 31, 2002, meeting.
Plewka wrote in his response to the accuser's letter that "the Diocese of Pueblo has not ever received any other letters such as yours concerning Brother William C. Mueller."
Plewka said Wednesday that the accuser's letter was passed on to the Marianist leadership with the permission of its author.
Glodek, head of the Marianist order in the United States, wrote a letter to the accuser in October 2005. It mentions that they last corresponded with each other in February 2003.
Glodek wrote in his letter that the accuser's claims were the first allegations "of bizarre behavior from a former student about William Mueller that I had received."
Spokeswoman Diane Guerra said the Marianist order's position on the accuser's letter mirrors that of the local diocese.
"The accuser doesn't even know if he was abused," she said. "In his initial communication to the diocese, which was forwarded to us, the accuser says he knows he was put out by ether and he doesn't know what happened next. Then he says he doesn't want (the matter) to go any further."
Guerra said the Marianists have not denied that the order's leadership was made aware of odd behavior by Mueller, but said it was addressed when the first allegations were made more than a decade after he left Pueblo.
Mueller was assigned to Roncalli from 1966 through the school's closure in 1971. He taught at Central Catholic High School in San Antonio for a decade after leaving Pueblo.
The next two stops for Mueller - St. Mary's High School and Vianney High School, both in St. Louis - ended in his termination, according to a letter dated January 2006 from Glodek to alumni of the schools. Mueller's firings were attributed to strange experiments involving students, Glodek wrote.
Mueller voluntarily left the Marianist order in 1986 after twice attending a treatment center for troubled Catholic clergy located in Jemez Springs, N.M.
According to Glodek's letter to alumni of the schools where Mueller had taught, Mueller had been sent to the treatment center for a "pattern of bizarre 'research.' " According to Glodek, the allegations against Mueller as of the mid-1980s, when he was sent to the treatment center, were not of a sexual nature, but rather involved pseudo-scientific experiments with ether.
Mueller, 67, resides in San Antonio. Glodek said he had a brief conversation with Mueller by phone in the wake of the first lawsuits being filed. In that conversation, Mueller denied any acts of sexual impropriety.
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