Delbarton failed to learn Penn State scandal’s biggest lesson

Jan 18, 2012 | All, Giles Hayes, Luke Travers

You might think that recent high-profile sex abuse scandals at Penn State University and elsewhere would serve as crisis management lessons for others.

Yet here we are, questioning another organization — this time, the Delbarton School in Morris Township — that appears unwilling to learn from those who failed.

News broke last week that Delbarton’s former headmaster, the Rev. Luke Travers, had contact with students at a school in Virginia while supposedly under investigation for sexual misconduct with Delbarton students many years ago. One former student told Delbarton officials that, as his father lay dying during his senior year, Travers consoled him by offering him liquor and kissing him on the neck and ears.

Revelations since then give the appearance of a bungled response by the prestigious all-boys school.

When the allegations arose in June, the 55-year-old Travers was called back to Delbarton, informed of the investigation and told to have no contact with young people and no access to a car. He could say Mass only for clergy.

Except officials in Virginia said no one told them about the restrictions — or the investigation in New Jersey.

And finally, as word of the Travers investigation spread, the Rev. Giles Hayes — abbot of St. Mary’s Abbey, which oversees Delbarton — characterized the incident as “a minor boundary violation with an adult.” Hayes seized on the victim’s age — not the student/headmaster relationship, not plying a student with alcohol, not the violation of Travers’ vows as a monk.

By minimizing the allegations, Hayes discouraged other possible victims from coming forward to report abusers. He also appears clueless about the long-term psychological and emotional effects. Delbarton parents and alumni should think hard about whether this is the man they want to oversee their school — and protect their children.

Delbarton now admits it made mistakes, both in monitoring Travers and in its public response. Nevertheless, the school insists its procedures worked.

If true, Travers’ actions, as recounted by victim advocates, were not those of a principal or priest, but rather a predator grooming a victim. That was Travers’ sin.

Delbarton’s sin was minimizing those allegations to salvage its reputation.

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Star-Ledger Opinion
January 18, 2012