News Clip: Letter: Former Delbarton Chief Came On to Student

Victims’ advocate describes alleged sexual misconduct

By Louis C. Hochman

Originally published on Morris Township-Morris Plains Patch · Jan. 13, 2012

A monk who served as the headmaster of Delbarton School in Morris Township is being investigated for what the school called a “minor boundary violation with an adult” in a letter to its community.

But victims advocate Patrick J. Marker says the Rev. Luke Travers, who was Delbarton’s headmaster from 1999 through 2007, violated sacred trusts in coming on to a student and trying to get the student to run away with him.

“Although the matter has been reported in the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, the conduct is not criminal and no criminal charges were issued,” the Rev. Giles P. Hayes of St. Mary’s Abbey said in the letter. St. Mary’s runs the school.

Because of the investigation, Travers has been removed from his more recent position as the non-residential administrator of the Mary Mother of Church Abbey in Richmond, according to and several Virginia news outlets.

That move was in response to a letter Marker, who runs the website—which says its mission is to “disseminate news articles and public information regarding misconduct at Delbarton School and St. Mary’s Abbey”—sent the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Va.

According to Marker’s letter, a former student Marker refers to as “Markus” (but says that’s not the alleged victim’s real name) wrote a letter to St. Mary’s Abbey in June 2011. Marker says Markus’ letter describes “grooming” he received from Travers around 1990, when Travers was a teacher.

“My father was diagnosed with terminal cancer during this time and this monk became an emotional support for me,” Marker quotes Markus writing. “Along the way, he crossed boundaries which betrayed the inherent trust which is sacred to his position as a teacher and a priest. Apart from inappropriate remarks concerning appreciation of my physical appearance, he would increasingly attempt close contact with me.”

It continues: “He invited me back to the monastery (he sneaked me in as lay people are not allowed there), and offered me a beer in his room. He began to talk about how other monks ‘visit his room often.’  Then, he asked me to sit on his bed with him. I did not. There were several times when he would hug me (I have no problem with that), but then would start kissing me on the neck and ears. When I protested, he said there was nothing wrong with what he was doing because he loved me.”

Marker’s letter says the Rev. Simon Gallagher of St. Mary’s Abbey responded by telling Markus “I will be in touch later this month to let you know the consequences for Luke Travers. I sincerely apologize for his unpardonable behavior towards you.”

Gallagher also reportedly wrote that Travers “can no longer function as a priest anywhere except in the Abbey church nor for anyone other than his fellow Benedictines. He cannot spend time with students or people under 25 years old; no teaching. His only work will be in the business office; he will no longer have a car assigned to him each day. These elements of his safety plan will be reviewed by me and others 6 times each month. The Abbey Review Board is already at work on your complaint and it has been given to the Morris County Prosecutor.”

Hayes told the Richmond Times-Dispatch of those restrictions as well. But “He has not committed a crime,” Hayes told the newspaper.

“Abuse does not have to include the far end to be devastating. … Whether a boundary violation or gross sexual misconduct, the effects can be the same,” Marker told Patch Friday. “It’s a breach of trust.”

Marker’s letter, like his site, goes on to detail what he says is a history of inadequate or inappropriate responses by St. Mary’s and Delbarton to allegations of misconduct. It questions whether individuals in the American-Cassinese Congregation worked to cover up or downplay accusations against Travers and others, and whether responses to allegations are strong enough.

The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office told Patch Friday it could not comment on whether it has an active investigation, as a matter of policy.

The statement Hayes sent home to the Delbarton community tells students, parents and others that since 2002, St. Mary’s has had an “internal processes to review allegations of sexual misconduct by priests and monks that are considered a national model, in part for the respect it gives to the rights and confidentiality of both victims and those accused.”

“During any investigation, we will be equally respectful of the justice process and provide our full cooperation, but with no further public comment. Not until that process is complete can we determine if it is appropriate to comment at all,” Hayes wrote.

The Diocese of Paterson’s website says Travers, a native of New York City, was ordained May 17, 1986, at St. Mary’s Abbey. In parish ministry, he served at Notre Dame of Mount Carmel Church, Cedar Knolls and Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church in Chatham Township, it states.

Delbarton officials referred questions to a public relations firm, which provided a copy of the same statement sent to the Delbarton community. It also confirmed the school and abbey have hired outside investigators. The firm said the first complaint came in June 2001, and a lay board will review all developments in the case.

Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church refered any questions to St. Mary’s Abbey. The Rev. Bruno Ugliano, of St. Mary’s, declined to comment.

Marker told Patch Friday that since the letter, and allegations, have gone public, there have been many who have expressed support. But “some have been very critical of those waiting so long to come forward,” he said. He said he didn’t intend for his letter to reach the news media, but is glad it did.

Marker—who maintains on there’s been a pattern of mishandled or covered-up abuse at the school, and who cites news reports he says support that argument—said he initially sent his letter to the Virginia abbey to encourage it to protect its community.

“I would like to see the Abbey make a public statement about the restrictions, the investigations and claims of misconduct by Luke and others—shed some light on the history of misconduct, so more will feel more comfortable coming forward,” Marker said. “There are a lot of men, I believe, that have had their lives devastated, certainly changed by, the misconduct at that school. They have tried to put up a good fight, but when trust has been so violated, the boundaries were destroyed. These carry on to later life. It can have devastating effects.”

He said he knows the incidents described in the Markus letter are only allegations, but said, “I believe them to be very credible,”

“Why have they been investigating this man for seven months? It blows my mind,” Marker said. “They knew all they did know about him and they allowed him to continue to go down to Virginia. It makes no sense.”

As for those who have been critical of the website, and the alleged victims, Marker said he hoped they would soften their stances once more was revealed.

“When the abbey comes clean, those resisting and critical of victims, I hope their minds will be changed when the Abbey does the responsible thing. Lend credibility to the allegations, then, they need to deal with them openly.”

—Louis C. Hochman, John Dunphy and Laura Silvius contributed to this report.

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