Allegations Mount Against Ex-Delbarton Chief

A victims advocate says at least five people are now accusing a former Delbarton School headmaster of making sexual advances toward them.

The latest is a former Morris County resident who now lives in North Carolina. In a notarized statement released by advocate Patrick J. Marker, the alleged victim says the Rev. Luke Travers “kissed my neck and then put his cheek on my cheek” during an intimate confessional session.

“Only recently have I begun to understand the effect that Father Luke’s actions had in my life. I do not wish similar pain or confusion on any person,” the alleged victim says in the letter.

In January, Marker said that alleged victim had not filed charges with any agency. It was not clear if that remained the case.

Marker—through his website, dedicated to publicizing allegations of misconduct at Delbarton and its sponsor, St. Mary’s Abbey—says that puts the alleged victim count at five. Marker, of Mount Vernon, WA, said the latest accuser, who initially said he would speak publicly on the issue, has since decided to let his statement speak for him.

Anthony Cicatiello, a spokesman for St. Mary’s Abbey, said Travers is under “most severe” restrictions at the Abbey while investigations into accusations take place. Travers is accompanied by another monk wherever he goes, Cicatiello said.

The allegations against Travers have been under investigation since 2011, he said. Cicatiello said there are parallel investigations taking place.

“We don’t want to be seen as obstructing” a law enforcement probe, Cicatiello said.

The first allegations against Travers came to light in January, though an investigation had already been going on for several months by then. A former student Marker has referred to as “Markus” (but also said that’s not his real name) had written to St. Mary’s Abbey in June. Markus alleged that in 1990, when Travers was a teacher at Delbarton, Travers offered the then-student alcohol, and kissed him on the neck and ears. Markus further alleged that after he graduated, when he returned to the school for a visit, Travers tried to convince him they should run away together.

After those allegations became public, the Star-Ledger reported two more men had come forward accusing Travers of innapropriately touching and kissing them during their youth. One of those was the North Carolina resident.

But Marker also says on his site there were at least two more alleged victims, though he does not provide many details about those accusations.

The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office is conducting an investigation, and the abbey will conduct an internal investigation once the prosecutor’s office is done, Cicatiello said. Prosecutors Office spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Paul said Friday the office does not comment on current investigations.

Travers served as Delbarton’s headmaster from 1999 to 2007. He was serving as the non-residential administrator of the Mary Mother of Church Abbey of Richmond, VA (part of the American-Cassinese Congregation of Benedictine Monasteries, like St. Mary’s), when the first allegations were brought to St. Mary’s in summer 2011. Travers was removed from that position, which he had held since 2010.

Concerns about Travers were raised by the leaders of the Virginia abbey once they received a letter written by Marker to the Most Rev. Francis Xavier DiLorenzo of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond.

Marker cited this Jan. 9 statement by Ann Ordway, an investigator for St. Mary’s Abbey: “[Travers] is currently on temporary restrictions pending investigation of other allegations.”

Abbot Giles P. Hayes of St. Mary’s issued a letter Jan. 18 that acknowledged that the Virginia abbey had not been appraised of the restrictions placed on Travers.

“It is now apparent that the communication from St. Mary’s Abbey to Mary Mother of the Church Abbey concerning the limitations placed on Father Luke’s ministry and mobility was either unclear, insufficiently documented or both,” Hayes wrote.

“Public confusion over Fr. Luke’s continuing oversight has been further compounded by the conflicting statements by St. Mary’s Abbey and the Diocese of Richmond. I can confirm that the Richmond Diocese was not consulted concerning Father Luke’s travels from one abbey to another or the fact that his ministry was restricted.”

Giles also said, “Although Father Luke was placed on a restricted ministry pending the outcome of the internal investigation, he was permitted to continue his administrative assignment overseeing the financial operations of Mary Mother of the Church Abbey in Richmond, Va. We felt that with appropriate controls, Father Luke could continue this vocational assignment in a controlled setting, even with restrictions concerning his contact with minors and young adults.”

The letter is posted on Marker’s website, along with accounts from the alleged victims.

The latest man to come forward said Travers tried to kiss him while they met for confession.

He described himself as from a “devout Catholic family.” He said as a teen he thought about becoming a priest, and over three years attended more than a dozen Antioch Retreats at Morris County Catholic churches.

In 1997, when he was 16, the man wrote, he attended a retreat at Notre Dame of Mount Carmel Church in Cedar Knolls.

His letter states:

“Father Luke chose to hear confessions in a private room. The room was dark but for a few candles. Confession was a scary, intimidating process to begin with … the environment that Father Luke created did nothing to lessen the anxiety. After Father Luke closed the door, he instructed me to sit in a chair. He pulled his chair directly in front of mine so our knees were touching, and laid his hands on my knees.”

“After I had talked about the issues I had been having in my life at that time (mostly typical for a teenager), he started questioning if I had a girlfriend or had any other issues with sexuality. I said no, at that time I was not involved with any girls, and was fine in that regard.”

“We said a prayer and when it was over, Father Luke leaned forward and gave me a long hug during which he stroked my back with his hand. He kissed my neck and then put his cheek on my cheek.”

“I had been uncomfortable with the intimacy during the whole process, but this was just too much for me, so I backed away and got to my feet, and asked to leave the room. He explained to me that I must have misunderstood his approach, and apologized, but I had had enough and promptly left for my host family’s home.”

A letter Hayes had sent to the Delbarton community regarding the first allegation described it as a “minor boundary violation with an adult.” It also stressed that while the matter had been referred to law enforcement, “the conduct is not criminal and no criminal charges were issued.”

“As I read Abbot Giles Hayes’ January 13, 2012 message to the Delbarton alumni, minimizing the allegations made by another of Father Luke’s victims, I knew that I had to reach out to support that, and other victims,” the new accuser said in his own letter. “I have also been trying to express to my own children, that if something feels wrong in their gut, it IS wrong, and to trust their feelings; and that I will always trust them if they are trusting themselves.”

Marker said in 1983, he was a victim of unwanted sexual advances by a priest. In 1989, he said, he began to investigate allegations at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota, which later identified several monks who were accused of misbehavior with dozens of victims.

He said that when theses sorts of allegations appear, the abbeys continue to handle them internally, despite the history of cases of priest sexual misconduct.

“The abbeys are closed off,” he said. “There is less awareness there of the activities of the outside world.”

This story is published on several Patch sites in Morris and Somerset counties. Comments below may be by readers from any of those communities.

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Allegations Mount Against Ex-Delbarton Chief
Abbey says investigations continue, no word yet on any charges.
Michael Daigle
February 5, 2012