|Church Settles with Abused Former Students
By Patrick Malone
The Pueblo Chieftain
October 31, 2008
Three years after their lawsuits were filed, and about four decades after they say they were sexually abused by a teacher at Roncalli High School, 23 plaintiffs finalized a $4 million settlement Thursday with the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo and the Society of Mary religious order.
The suits accused former Marianist Brother William Mueller, a teacher at the all-boys high school while it was open from 1966-71, of convincing students that he was conducting trust experiments, then rendering them helpless with ether and molesting or raping them.
According to court records in Missouri and Pueblo, Mueller's Marianist supervisors were aware of allegations that he had behaved inappropriately with teenage boys beginning in 1958 when he was studying toward acceptance into the order. Mueller left the Society of Mary voluntarily in 1986 after complaints against him continued, despite two trips to a New Mexico treatment center for troubled clergy. Leaders of the order were aware of complaints about Mueller at every high school where he was assigned before and after his stay at Roncalli, according to depositions.
“One of the most disturbing parts of this case was that before William Mueller came to Roncalli High School, the Marianists were aware he was sexually abusing children and they failed to take steps to remedy the situation,” said Adam Horowitz of the Miami Firm of Herman and Mermelstein, which represented the plaintiffs. “The diocese of Pueblo and the Marianist order were negligent in supervising William Mueller. The institutional wrongdoing they committed by failing to protect children, to me, is unexplainable.” Horowitz said his clients are satisfied with the outcome, although neither the Marianists nor the diocese acknowledged fault in the settlement agreement.
“We believe it's validation of our clients' claims,” Horowitz said. “We have no illusion that by settling this case the pain of our clients will be gone.”
Both the diocese and the Marianists issued written statements Thursday and declined to filed questions about the settlement.
“It has been my goal to resolve these cases with hope of providing a sense of closure, compassion and justice to the men whose lives have been altered by their early contact with Brother Mueller,” Bishop Arthur Tafoya said in his prepared statement. "It was my honor to have met with each of these men, and I again offer to them and their families my apologies and regrets for everything that they have experienced.
“I sincerely hope that this resolution will provide some peace for these men, and also for the people of the diocese of Pueblo, who have been affected. We continue to be concerned for the ongoing healing that must take place, and I can assure these men of my prayers and welcome (them) within our faith community as a beneficial step in their healing process.”
The Marianists' statement read: “It is our hope that the money given to the plaintiffs in this settlement bring them closer to peace of heart and healing.”
Mueller, who is 70 and living in the San Antonio area, was not made to pay anything in the suits. He has not been charged criminally because none of the allegations were reported to police before the statute of limitations lapsed.
Mueller's St. Louis-based lawyer, J. Martin Hadican, did not return a phone call Thursday seeking a comment.
Horowitz declined to discuss whether the diocese or the Marianists paid a greater share of the settlement. He referred questions about the funding sources of the settlement to the order and diocese, neither of which fielded questions on Thursday.
The plaintiffs' shares of the settlement averaged $173,913. However, Horowitz said the amount received by each accuser varied based on the severity of their allegations. He said each plaintiff received more than $100,000.
One plaintiff, who now lives in New Mexico and asked to remain anonymous, said Horowitz's firm received “the standard” share for contingency litigation.
“Our lawyers worked for three years without any pay and took the risk that these suits might be thrown out over the statute of limitations,” the plaintiff said. “Whatever they got, they deserved.”
A 24th plaintiff still has a suit pending against the diocese. He was dropped as a client by Horowtiz's firm after his veracity came into question over a tape-recorded phone call with his ex-wife during which he alluded that his allegations against Mueller were false.
Three lawsuits alleging abuse were filed by former Mueller students in St. Louis. One was settled for $160,000. Two were dismissed over the civil statute of limitations in Missouri.
When the first Pueblo suits were filed in September 2005, the Marianists contacted alumni at each of the schools where Mueller had taught. More than 50 reported back to the order that Mueller had behaved inappropriately toward them.
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a national organization that tracks sexual abuse by clergy, ranks Mueller among the 10 most prolific known sexual abusers of children in the United States. On Thursday, SNAP issued a statement urging anyone else with knowledge of wrongdoing by Mueller to come forward.
Horowitz said although he's disappointed that Mueller will not be held criminally accountable for abusing students, he believes the attention garnered by the suits assured a watchful eye on Mueller that would make it difficult for him to abuse others.
He said the Catholic Church has taken steps during the past 15 years to better screen aspiring clergy.
“We certainly hope that the diocese of Pueblo and the Marianists will take appropriate steps to protect children going forward,” Horowitz said. “They've given us that assurance. We hope it's true.”
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