Lawsuits allege teacher drugged, sexually abused students at Catholic school
DENVER ” Two men accused a former Catholic high school teacher Wednesday of drugging them with ether and then sexually assaulting them nearly 40 years ago when they were students in Pueblo.
The men claim a Roncalli High School music teacher, who was a member of the Marianists religious order, told them he was conducting experiments on sleep, according to copies of two lawsuits provided by their attorney, Jeffrey M. Herman.
The men each seek more than $10 million in damages from the Marianists and the Diocese of Pueblo, alleging both failed to protect the students and “actively took steps to conceal the abuse in order to protect” the teacher, the lawsuits said.
The lawsuits identify the teacher as William Mueller, but he is not named as a defendant. Mueller, reached at his home in San Antonio, said he was not aware of the suits and hung up without further comment.
Herman said the lawsuits were filed in Pueblo County District Court, but court officials could not immediately confirm that.
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They would be the eighth and ninth sexual abuse lawsuits filed against Catholic dioceses in the state since August. Seven were filed against the Archdiocese of Denver, saying officials knew about allegations against a priest but transferred him to different parishes to avoid a scandal.
Herman is representing plaintiffs in some of those cases as well.
The latest lawsuits say the alleged assaults took place in 1968 on a 15-year-old and in 1969 on a 17-year old. The men were identified only as J.M. of Albuquerque, N.M., and T.A. of Danville, Calif.
In each case, Mueller asked the boys to help him in the experiments, which he said were for his masters thesis in psychology, the lawsuits say.
“The really horrific thing about it is he did the whole thing under the guise of a science experiment,” Herman said.
Both men allege they were assaulted twice after inhaling ether. In one instance, T.A. remained alert despite the ether as Mueller asked about his sexual fantasies, took off the student’s pants and fondled him, one lawsuit alleges.
Herman said Mueller was sent to a New Mexico center that treats pedophilia in 1985.
Diane Guerra, communications director for the Marianists Province in St. Louis, acknowledged Mueller went to a treatment center before he left the order in 1986, but did not know what for.
She said the order was aware of allegations that Mueller engaged in “bizarre behavior” with students, but she stressed none of the incidents were sexual in nature. She had no specifics.
Guerra said the Marianists had not been served with the lawsuits and would not comment on specific allegations. Pueblo Diocese chancellor Monsignor Mark Plewka also said diocese officials had not seen the lawsuits and could not comment.
Roncalli was an all-boys high school owned by the Pueblo Diocese and staffed by the Marianists. It no longer operates.
While Catholic dioceses in other states have been rocked by sexual assault allegations in the past few years, Colorado remained relatively unscathed until last month.
David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said some of the recent lawsuits may have come from people’s frustration with the church response to earlier allegations in other parts of the country.
“Increasingly, I think victims are turning to the media and the courts to get the truth-telling and the warnings and the prevention that many had hoped would come from church officials,” Clohessy said.
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