updated 10/30/2008 8:59:05 PM ET 2008-10-31T00:59:05

The Catholic Diocese of Pueblo and the Marianist religious order have agreed to pay $4 million to settle the claims of 23 men who said they were sexually abused when they attended a Catholic high school in Pueblo.

Attorney Adam D. Horowitz of Miami said each man will receive more than $100,000 under terms of the agreement, which involved alleged abuse at Roncalli High School between 1966 and 1971.

Lawsuits filed on behalf of the former students allege former Brother William Mueller lured them to a band room at the school and asked them to participate in an experiment about trust. He placed a cloth soaked in ether, a compound used for anesthesia, over their mouths, then sexually abused them as they lay helpless, according to the lawsuits.

A number for Mueller, who lives in San Antonio, could not be found. He has denied sexually assaulting the boys.

Settlement to bring healing?
In a statement, Bishop Arthur Tafoya of the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo said he hopes the settlement provides "closure, compassion, and justice to the men whose lives have been altered by their early contact with Brother Mueller."

A statement issued by Stephen Glodeck, head of the St. Louis-based Marianist Province of the United States, said it was the order's hope that "money given to the plaintiffs in this settlement brings them closer to peace of heart and healing."

A breakdown of how much each defendant would pay was not immediately available.

Roncalli was an all-boys high school owned by the diocese and staffed by the Marianists. It closed in 1971.

"This is one aspect of the healing process," Horowitz said in an interview by telephone from Pueblo, where he and co-attorney Jeffrey Herman announced the settlement. "It's a recognition that a horrific wrong was perpetrated and that the horrific wrong resulted in catastrophic injuries."

Nearly two dozen former students came forward after the first allegation surfaced in a lawsuit filed in September 2005.

"Every one of our clients thought they were the only ones who had this happen to them," Horowitz said.

Other abuse allegations
Herman said evidence surfaced that the Marianists knew of other abuse allegations involving Mueller. In addition to Roncalli, Mueller taught at St. Vianney High School in St. Louis and at another school in Texas.

Glodeck's statement did not address those allegations.

The Marianists have said Mueller spent time at a treatment center and left the order in 1986. Details of his treatment have not been released.

A Kirkwood, Mo., man settled his lawsuit last year for $160,000 over similar allegations involving Mueller, a former principal at Vianney High School in St. Louis.

Marianist spokeswoman Diane Guerra said lawsuits filed by three others in Missouri were dismissed. No claims have surfaced in Texas, she said.

Pueblo authorities investigated the claims in 2005 and determined that no criminal charges could be filed. Prosecutors said the law at the time allowed for prosecution only within 10 years of a juvenile victim's 18th birthday.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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