COLUMN: Explanations, apologies remain for Delbarton sex abuse victims

The writer, formerly of Mendham, was a victim of clergy sexual abuse while attending Delbarton in Morris Township. He can be reached at


As a young boy in the late 1970s, I had the privilege of living on the Delbarton School campus where my father worked as both a teacher and school administrator.

While there, I enjoyed playing on those idyllic grounds interacting with the teachers, students and monks of St. Mary’s Abbey, who ran the school. I have many happy memories from that time, which I will cherish forever. Two especially fond memories were serving as the water boy for the football team and the bat-boy for the baseball team.

Unfortunately, however, I also have some painful memories — memories of being sexually abused by monks from the abbey.

To address the damage I suffered as a result of that abuse and to hold the people responsible for it accountable, I filed a civil lawsuit in the Superior Court in Morristown in 2012. In the eight years that followed, I, represented by my attorney, Gregory Gianforcaro, litigated my case.

The experience of doing so was an odyssey I will never forget and has confirmed for me that the men who occupy St. Mary’s Abbey care first and foremost about themselves and their lifestyle and not the safety of the students they are entrusted to educate, as they would have you believe.

In the years following the initiation of my lawsuit, several other lawsuits against St. Mary’s Abbey, current and former monks and priests, Delbarton School, and lay faculty members were filed. Throughout, the leaders of the abbey and school remained silent, but allowed and enabled their ever-growing legal team to aggressively and painfully attack me and the other litigants, as they defended themselves against our abuse claims.

Michael Chritchly, an attorney well-known for defending the indefensible, even brazenly said he’ll enjoy the day when I would have to apologize to the school for making what he characterized as “false accusations.” Needless to say, that never happened, and it never will.

On July 20, 2018, just a couple of months after we settled, Abbot Richard Cronin, O.S.B., the current leader of St. Mary’s Abbey, and newly installed Delbarton School Headmaster, Father Michael Tidd, O.S.B., posted “A Letter to the Delbarton Community” on the school website about the “allegations” of abuse. That letter, which I encourage everyone to read very closely, is, in my opinion, a deceptive piece of error-filled public relations drivel.

In it, the leaders of the abbey and school acknowledge that, since 1988, 30 individuals have reported having been sexually abused between 1968 and 1999 by 13 present or former monks from St. Mary’s Abbey and one retired lay faculty member.

Given, however, that in 2002, Abbot Thomas Confroy stated in a letter to parents, alumni, trustees and friends, “As has long been a matter of public record, a former student filed a sexual misconduct complaint in 1986 against Father Timothy Brennan concerning an incident that had occurred in 1984,” we need to either increase the tally of Delbarton abuse victims to 31 or back up the first abuse report date to 1986.

If you are tempted to think me petty for calling out a two-year discrepancy, then consider another one of the cases currently being litigated against St. Mary’s Abbey and Delbarton. In that case, the plaintiff, a 1977 graduate who had been abused on Jan. 1, 1976, reported his abuse to Abbot Brian Clarke in June of 1977.

Now, including his case, we need to back up the date of their first receipt of an abuse claim to 1977 and, potentially, increase the tally of victims 32. We now have an 11 year discrepancy from what Cronin and Tibbs reported and, possibly, two additional victims. This information makes me wonder what other details are being withheld.

Details Matter

Details matter when you’re counting the victims of childhood sexual abuse by clergy. Blurring those details to lessening the magnitude further demonstrates this institution’s propensity to worm and slither away from the hard, factual accounting of their transgressions. This conduct lacks what Cronin and Tibbs described in their letter as direct and forthright.

I believe all the details of the known Delbarton abuse cases will soon come out. I also believe that we now know only a small percentage of victims of abuse from the clerics at Delbarton and that the remainder will come forward. When they do, I predict we will see yet more examples of the abbey’s manipulation of the facts and outright avoidance of being truly open and transparent. Of course, when that happens, we’ll likely be sold on yet another story.

After more than eight years of litigation, my case recently settled, but it was not settled without restrictions. Yes, as the recent letter from Cronin and Tibbs says, I may talk about my experiences – what happened to me. And, yes, I may also talk about how much money they paid me to settle the case.

Unfortunately, though, I may not talk about the most shocking matters and those most critical to public safety: The information contained in the documents discovered through litigation about the members of that institution. When that changes and those documents are finally revealed for public consumption, any trust in that institution held by even the most dim-witted person will be completely obliterated, thereby opening the way for the real and substantive changes necessary to better protect its students.

Then, the abbey will not be cut back (“succisa” in the school’s crest), they will be completely cut out from any and all exposure to students. My experiences with having been abused by them, both sexually as a child and through litigation as an adult, confirms for me the need for this to happen.

Despite the seemingly self-serving errors in the number of abuse victims who have come forward, the errors in the timeline of abuse reports and the language used about the restrictions are on what victims may discuss, I do take a modicum of comfort in that the abbey and the school have finally conceded that numerous abuses had occurred and that they had offered an apology.

Mind you, though, it was not an apology to me, or any victim personally. It was, predictably, a generic apology — delivered on their website and to their mailing list of people whom they hope will continue to financially support their institution.

To me their response does not seem to be about genuine, heart-felt compassion for the victims of sexual abuse by members of their institution. It appears to be about damage control. If it had been about genuine, heart-felt compassion, then why did it take so long to be issued?

‘Agents of God’

Let’s remember that these men claim to be agents of God on earth. As such, it seems to me, first and foremost, that these abuses would have never occurred. And, when realizing that they had, they would have expeditiously handled them “directly and forthrightly.” That the leadership of this institution did not leads me to believe that they are not who they claim to be.

The depth and breadth of this problem within the Catholic church leads me to conclude that the entire organization, all the way up to the Pope, is a sham. I can only hope that the people reading this will be willing to set aside their religious indoctrination to examine this matter with Delbarton and the Catholic church more broadly, using circumspection and clear-headed rational thought.

When that happens perhaps we’ll have the reformation that, in my opinion, is so sorely needed. Maybe then Catholics will have a church that they are proud of again. I surely hope that happens, unfortunately though, I’m not willing to hold my breath believing that it will.

For St. Mary’s Abbey and Delbarton, real reconciliation with the victims — truly settling the differences I, and the other victims, have with the institution — is still a long way off. I encourage abbey and school leadership to celebrate those who have already come forward to speak about their horrific experiences because it is their courage and bravery which is leading the charge to cleanse that environment to make it safe for students.

Delbarton publicly celebrated its graduates who, as Duke University students and lacrosse players, had been charged with crimes. Their charges included a first-degree sexual offense, kidnapping, and rape of an exotic dancer whom they had hired to perform at an off-campus party. If Delbarton was able to celebrate them publicly, surely there is room for them to genuinely celebrate their sex abuse victims who have stepped forward to do something truly honorable. Those players are now in the Delbarton “Hall of Honor.” What will become of the abuse victims?

This story is ongoing and far from being over. I, for one, will be watching and, of course, I hope you will be too.

Editor’s note: The 2006 charges were eventually dropped and the Duke University lacrosse players and students were all exonerated of the charges. Crane said that he will not disclose the amount of his settlement until Delbarton suspends a gag order against another victim, Bill Wolfe. Wolfe was bound by a non-disclosure agreement made as part of a settlement with Delbarton School in 1988 and is still barred from discussing the settlement.

August 8, 2018