Abbey Report Shows 3 Clerics Guilty of Abuse

One priest, a former Delbarton teacher, has been sent to a rehabilitation center where he is expected to live out his life. A deacon will have his clerical status stripped from him. Another cleric will be allowed to function as a priest but won’t be allowed to have contact with children.

St. Mary’s Abbey, which runs the Delbarton School in Morris Township, released a statement this week to sum up what it has been doing over the past couple of years about clerics accused of sexual abuse. The statement wrapped up a couple of cases that had been publicized in the past, along with at least one never before revealed.

The new case involved a priest accused of sexual misconduct in another state, according to abbey officials. That priest will be allowed to continue to work and live at the monastery, church officials said, but won’t be allowed near children. Abbey officials said the punishment wasn’t more severe because they don’t have enough information about the allegations. They said the allegations were made by a third party and that the alleged victim has not come forward.

“He is living on campus and his work is limited to the monastery,” Rev. Elias Lorenzo, a monk who has been a spokesman for the abbey, said of the priest.

The abbey’s statement summed up the work of an independent review board, established in the summer of 2002 and composed of lay people, which has investigated four cases over the past two years and made recommendations to abbey officials. In every case, Lorenzo said, the review board’s recommendations have been followed. In three cases, he said, some action was taken against a cleric. In another case, an alleged victim’s claims of abuse were deemed to have no merit.

St. Mary’s had come under some criticism from victim’s advocates two years ago, and even from some church officials, after the Daily Record reported that abbey officials sent an abusive priest to an Elmira, N.Y. monastery without the knowledge of the local bishop. That case raised questions about how the abbey, part of the Benedictine order and in some ways independent of the oversight of bishops, had been handling abuse cases.

Mark Serrano, a former Mendham resident and a spokesman for a national victim’s group, criticized the abbey Wednesday — particularly its decision to allow a priest to continue living at the monastery while barring him from contact with children.

“How do you keep him away from the preadolescents and adolescents walking the grounds of Delbarton?” said Serrano, a trustee with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. “This is where the review board process is nothing more than a public relations tool.”

Abbey officials said the priest, who they did not name, is not a teacher at Delbarton. He had been accused of sexual misconduct in a letter written to an out-of-state diocese, they said, and St. Mary’s officials learned about the accusation last year. Their statement was vague about the case, and they offered few details in interviews.

“If he can live on the campus, it was not one of the more serious cases,” Lorenzo said.

Marie L. Garibaldi, a former state Supreme Court justice who was in charge of the review board, was unavailable for comment Wednesday. She did not return a message left on her answering machine.

Abbey officials did not reveal the names of any clerics investigated by the review board in its statement. But some of the cases had been publicized in the past and church officials previously acknowledged some of the clerics’ identities.

Abbey officials, in a seven-page statement, summed up four cases that they said had been resolved by the review board.

One case involved Rev. Timothy Brennan, a priest who pleaded guilty in 1987 to aggravated sexual contact in 1984 with a 15-year-old Delbarton student. Brennan has been sent to a rehabilitation center at an undisclosed location, according to abbey officials, and is expected to live there for the rest of his life, or for as long as he remains a priest.

Abbey officials said in their statement that another complaint about Brennan, made by a former student, was filed with them two years ago.

The review board made a decision in the Brennan case about one year ago, according to the abbey’s statement:

“(The review board) recommended that the priest not be dismissed, in which case he would live unsupervised. Rather, he has been committed to a restricted and supervised therapeutic community dedicated to the monitoring and treatment of sexual offenders. The out-of-state facility, where he has no contact of any kind with minors, is considered his permanent residence.”

In 2002, St. Mary’s officials acknowledged that years after Brennan was criminally charged, they sent him to work at a monastery in Elmira, N.Y. They said he was removed from there in March 2002 because of concerns about bad publicity during a national scandal that involved church leaders moving around abusive priests. Rochester, N.Y. Diocese officials, when told two years ago that Brennan had been working in their area for years, said he should not have been there.

In another case, review board members heard allegations that in the 1960s, some members of the monastery abused a monk who has since left the order. Abbey officials said this week that the review board interviewed people named by the accuser but that the allegations were not found to be credible.

In another case made public two years ago, Robert Flavin, a deacon and former teacher at Delbarton, was accused of groping a former student in 1981. The student was an adult at the time.

Flavin, who denied the charges through an attorney, did not appear before the review board, which found the accusations to be credible. Abbey officials say they want the deacon removed from the clergy in a process called laicization.

Paterson Diocese officials sent papers to Rome this past June to begin the process — one year after they announced Flavin would be laicized.

Marianna Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Paterson Diocese, explained the delay this week by saying that the official charged with gathering the paperwork had been busy with other duties.

The Flavin case also raised questions about how St. Mary’s officials handled past allegations of abuse. They have acknowledged that Flavin worked for a time at Resurrection parish in Randolph, years after one Abbey official was told, in 1991, about the sexual abuse allegations. Abbey officials also have acknowledged that Flavin was caught drinking with students at the monastery in 1987 but was not immediately fired. They said he was told, at the time, that he would not have a teaching position the following year.

In another case not mentioned in the statement, St. Mary’s officials acknowledged that another priest continued working in the monastery and rose to the rank of prior after being arrested and charged with purchasing cocaine in 1991.

According to a Daily Record story in 1991, the Rev. Patrick Hurley was charged with buying cocaine from a Denville drug ring. Lorenzo said the charges were dismissed later because Hurley agreed to undergo treatment. Hurley was named prior of the monastery two years ago, Lorenzo said, but stepped down earlier this year for personal reasons.

Abbey Report Shows 3 Clerics Guilty of Abuse
Critics Debate Panel’s Recommendations

By Abbott Koloff
Daily Record (Morristown, New Jersey)
August 5, 2004