Ex-Delbarton headmaster accused of sexual misconduct was a predator

(Star-Ledger) In 1999, when he was asked to become headmaster at the exclusive Delbarton School, the Rev. Luke Travers said he responded with “one loud ‘Yes!’” because he was “thrilled and honored.”

But several years earlier, according to a victims advocate, Travers was ready to chuck it all and run away with a former Delbarton student, who is now alleging sexual misconduct by Travers in the early 1990s.

A letter Tuesday from Patrick Marker, the advocate, to the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Va., detailed the allegations and described Travers as a predator who groomed his alleged victim.

As a result of the accusations and an ongoing investigation, Travers has been removed from his position as a non-residential administrator of the Mary Mother of Church Abbey in Richmond, where he has been since 2010. He is prohibited from having contact with juveniles or young adults. He has not been charged with any crime.

Travers, 55, was headmaster at Delbarton from 1999 to 2007 and taught at the school before and after that.

According to Marker, the alleged victim, now in his late 30s, said Travers consoled him while his father was dying, offering him alcohol and hugging and kissing him on the neck and ears while he was a student at the all-boys school in Morris Township.

When he protested the affection, he told Marker, Travers told him there was “nothing wrong with what he was doing because he loved me.” When the accuser returned for a visit as a college freshman, Travers asked the adult teen to run away with him, Marker said.

Travers “crossed boundaries which betrayed the inherent trust which is sacred to his position as a teacher and a priest,” the man said, according to Marker.

In a letter to the Delbarton community Thursday, the Rev. Giles P. Hayes, abbot of St. Mary’s Abbey, which runs the school, called the allegation “a minor boundary violation with an adult.” Giles, who said “the conduct is not criminal,” said the allegations have been reported to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.

The prosecutor’s office declined to comment.

Hayes, in an email, said his abbey’s review board hired an independent investigator to look into a single complaint of sexual misconduct against Travers — which is consistent of guidelines established by the Religious Communities of Men.

Marker’s letter, however, contained the story of a second alleged victim, who says his crotch and butt were grabbed by Travers, who also asked him whether he was having sex with his girlfriend. Those incidents occurred in the early 1980s, while the student was about 14 years old, Marker said.

“A second victim? That’s news to us,” Hayes said in his email.

Marker, who says he has been in touch with both alleged victims, said Travers was so trusted by the family of one of the alleged victims that the father, in a deathbed plea, asked the monk “to take care of my son.”

Victims advocates criticized Hayes for “minimizing” the incident.

“While it might not be criminal, I’m sure it’s against the vows Travers took,” Marker said.

Mark Serrano, a national advocate for sex abuse victims, questioned why Delbarton didn’t notify the community of the allegations when school administrators became aware of them in June and hired the investigator.

“I wouldn’t trust the school’s characterization of the incidents as ‘minor’ until we know all the facts,” Serrano said. “In the meantime, we must make sure Travers has no contact with children.”

As part of the investigation, Travers is restricted from contact with anyone under 25, prohibited from having contact with students and banned from saying mass for anyone other than fellow monks.

But the Richmond abbey knew nothing of the restrictions, said the Rev. Adrian Harmening, who replaced Travers as administrator. Harmening told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that Travers had been allowed to say Mass for students in recent months.

An abbey official said Travers returned to New Jersey, but he could not be reached for comment.

According to the Paterson Diocese website, Travers, a native of New York City, was ordained in 1986 at St. Mary’s Abbey in Morris Township. He received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in 1979, a master’s degree in theology from The Catholic University of America in 1984 and a master’s of education degree from Harvard in 1999.

In parish ministry, he served at Notre Dame of Mount Carmel Church in Cedar Knolls and Corpus Christi Church in Chatham Township.

By Kevin Manahan and Bob Considine/The Star-Ledger

Source: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/01/former_delbarton_headmaster_ac.html

Victims advocate: Ex-Delbarton headmaster accused of sexual misconduct was a predator
The Star-Ledger
January, 13, 2012