Former head of religious order feels badly that he didn't deal with Brother Mueller long ago
By PATRICK MALONE
The same month that Mueller was released from his first stay at Jemez Springs, Fleming assigned him to St. John Vianney High School as assistant principal.
Thirteen months after his release, Mueller was back at Jemez Springs. This time, members of the student council at Vianney and at least one parent complained that Mueller had ordered students to kneel and pledge allegiance to him.
Mueller spent four months, from December 1985 to April 1986, at Jemez Springs during his second stay. More allegations of impropriety involving students surfaced while Mueller was there.
Fleming wrote to Mueller in a letter dated March 5, 1986: “During the past two days, I have received several expressions of concern from parents and school administrators concerning your contacts with current and former students.”
Mueller responded to Fleming in a letter dated July 26, 1986, three months after his release from his second visit to Jemez Springs: “I don't know how much additional trouble I've caused or am in. I received a telephone call from Mike Foley saying I was in trouble. I'm sorry people got hurt.”
In September 1986, Mueller resigned from the Marianist order. Fleming has testified that Mueller was not forced to resign by Marianist leaders.
Mueller moved back to his hometown of San Antonio, where he worked in data processing and for the San Antonio symphony and lived in relative anonymity at a trailer park until the first public allegations against him surfaced two years ago. He is 69 and still lives in San Antonio. Mueller did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this series.
Fleming testified that he learned of additional complaints from Mueller's past in the immediate aftermath of his removal from Vianney, and during the years that have followed.
“I have heard some gossip or some allegations that people reported to some of my predecessors,” Fleming testified. “I don't know whether it's true or not. It's more talk. I think there were some suspicions more arising from the fact that Brother Mueller was spending a great deal of time in his band room with his students and so forth and some people were uneasy about that. They may have brought that to the attention of some of my predecessors.”
Fleming never investigated those reports further, even when he was promoted to international head of the Marianist order in 1996. He spent 10 years in Rome holding that post.
“I was the general director of the Marianist priests and brothers in all parts of the world,” Fleming testified. “That includes about 36 countries. And my jobs were to deal with finances, and especially to make visits to all these places and try to maintain some kind of common trust and unity.”
What Fleming had heard about his predecessors was more than mere gossip. Mueller had confessed his experiments to another past Marianist provincial, the Rev. Quentin Hakenewerth. A letter dated in 1960 also shows that the provincial at that time, J. Glennon McCarty, knew of improper contact between a 14-year-old boy and Mueller when he was a 20-year-old novice at Maryhurst in St. Louis.
Brother Stephen Glodek, the current Marianist provincial for the U.S., testified that Mueller had admitted to Hakenewerth that he conducted experiments in the late 1970s on students at Central Catholic High School in San Antonio, where Mueller was assigned from 1971 to 1981. Hakenewerth allowed Mueller to stay on at Central, and Fleming later transferred him to more all-boys schools.
Students from both of those subsequent assignments have accused Mueller of abuse.
Out of 10 past colleagues and supervisors of Mueller who were contacted with interview requests for this series, only Hakenewerth responded.
“Only once was I informed of Brother Mueller's experiments,” Hakenewerth wrote in an e-mail message, “and as I recall at that time, it involved only a few boys in one class. Brother Mueller told me that the experiments involved being in a dark room for the purpose of developing trust in him and in one another.”
Hakenewerth said none of the accusations at Central High that were brought to his attention involved sexual impropriety.
Hakenewerth also said that he never was informed of the accusations against Mueller that preceded the 1970s. Students at Vianney and Roncalli High School in Pueblo have said in police reports and lawsuits that school and Marianist officials were notified of experiments and sex abuse that Mueller subjected them to during the 1960s.
“I was not aware of any previous complaints (before the 1970s) about such conduct on the part of Brother Mueller,” Hakenewerth wrote. “When I learned later of the accusations and of the behavioral problems of Brother Mueller, I did feel very bad for not having assessed the situation more accurately when I was first involved Ñ and I still feel bad. Looking back, I think there were signs that I did not read well and certainly did not see the implications of some bizarre behavior. I believe if there had been any sexual implications at all, I would have been more alert.”
Hakenewerth said the Marianists have changed their policies to protect students. Secrets of the society no longer walk out the door when the order changes provincials.
“With hindsight, I regret that people like myself did not see this 35 years ago,” Hakenewerth wrote.
Glodek testified that the first hint of sexual misconduct by Mueller came to his attention in March 2005.
Monsignor Mark Plewka, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo, phoned Glodek to notify him that a Roncalli alumnus had reported that Mueller had subjected him to a strange experiment. Six months later, the first lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by Mueller were filed in Pueblo and St. Louis.
The suits prompted Glodek to send thousands of letters to alumni of schools where Mueller had taught. Glodek testified that he received 52 responses reporting participation in Mueller's experiments. Two of those involved alleged sexual abuse.
The magnitude of Mueller's abusive behavior has emerged since then. In Pueblo, 24 lawsuits have been filed. Almost all of them involve allegations that Mueller sexually abused students. Four lawsuits in St. Louis contain one specific allegation of sexual contact between Mueller and a student. Nine more St. Louis accusers are identified in police reports filed during the past two years alleging abuse occurred decades ago.
In San Antonio, a police report was filed in 1994 by a former student who alleged that Mueller blindfolded and fondled him at Central High in 1972. No charges were filed.
Mueller has a spotless criminal history, clean enough to qualify him to teach at any school tomorrow, detectives learned two years ago during a criminal probe of his behavior at St. Louis schools during the 1960s and 1980s. He isn't likely to face a criminal charge any time soon. Despite the numerous police complaints filed in the past two years alleging past abuse by Mueller, prosecutors in St. Louis County declined to press charges against Mueller because the statute of limitations had lapsed, according to a Kirkwood, Mo., police report.
Pueblo prosecutors also have said they will not prosecute Mueller because of the statute of limitations.
Bryan Bacon, one of the plaintiffs suing the Marianists, the Archdiocese of St. Louis and Mueller over alleged abuse that occurred at Vianney during the 1980s, said he feels some measure of justice in the public exposure that the allegations against Mueller have drawn, but not enough.
“I'll be very relieved when the lawsuit is done with,” Bacon said. “These are difficult from an emotional standpoint, to publicly relive the abuse, the damage it's done to my life. That's not fun. There's finally some hope for closure. But for all of us, there's really not going to be any justice until we get some declaration that Mueller is guilty.”
Mueller is transferred to Roncalli High School in Pueblo, a new all-boys school opened by the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo. Mueller teaches religion and music at Roncalli. To date, 24 former Roncalli students have filed lawsuits alleging that Mueller abused them using the same ruse he had employed at Vianney. Mueller remained at Roncalli until it closed in 1971.
After leaving the Marianists, Mueller returned to San Antonio and continues to live there today. He worked at times in data entry and with the San Antonio symphony. In March 2005, Monsignor Mark Plewka, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo, called current Marianist Provincial Superior Brother Stephen Glodek to report an allegation of abuse against Mueller by a Roncalli alumnus. Within six months, the first lawsuits accusing Mueller of abuse were filed in Pueblo and St. Louis. To date, police reports and lawsuits have identified 40 former students who allegedly were abused by Mueller. The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, better known as SNAP, considers Mueller among the 10 most prolific clergymen who committed abuse known today. Despite all of the allegations contained in lawsuits and police reports, Mueller has never been charged with a crime, and to date, none of the lawsuits has been settled. Criminal statutes of limitations in Colorado, Texas and Missouri have deterred prosecutors from pressing criminal charges against Mueller. Civil statutes of limitations in those states have posed obstacles to those who are suing over allegations that Mueller abused them.