Father of men who filed sexual abuse lawsuit against Delbarton says monks betrayed his trust

(Star-Ledger) Bill Crane Sr. remembers the sweaty August day in 1964, when he drove his Pontiac onto the sprawling Delbarton School campus, hoping to land a job as a history teacher that paid $4,400 a year. Married, he had a freshly printed diploma from Upsala College in his pocket and a baby on the way.

But he wasn’t desperate. After all, he had just told a “stuffy” administrator at Hanover Park High School in East Hanover that he didn’t want the job the guy was offering.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” Crane was asked.

“Anyplace but here,” he replied, then walked out.

But Delbarton was different. Even in midsummer, the place had the feel of serious academia.

“As I stepped out of the car, I said to myself, ‘Now, this seems like a great place,’ ” Crane recalled in a phone interview Wednesday from his home in Washington state. “Knowing what I know now, I would have shut the door and driven away — in a hurry.”

But he stayed for 43 years, and this is what happened:

On Tuesday, his twin sons, Tom and Bill Jr., now 46, filed a lawsuit against Delbarton and St. Mary’s Abbey, which runs the school, charging that they were sexually abused by two monks while the kids hung around the school in the 1970s and 1980.

In other words, two of their father’s colleagues — the Rev. Luke Travers, who once served as headmaster, and the Rev. Justin Capato — allegedly betrayed Bill Crane Sr. by abusing two of his six children while Crane and the monks worked side by side.

For all the reasons Crane, 69, has to be angry, he said he is not.

“I’m upset,” he said. “It was my kids. I’m very upset about that. But I’m not an angry person. I don’t think problems can be solved with anger. You have to deal with the issues. Delbarton, unfortunately, hasn’t wanted to deal with its issues.

“It’s just sad it has come to this. The people who hold the power are not dealing with some of the problems they should’ve dealt with.”

In an unparalleled lay career at the 73-year-old elite, all-boys Catholic school in Morris Township, Crane served as a teacher, a member of the board of trustees, the head of the middle school, the director of guidance and as assistant headmaster — the highest-ranking layperson on campus — for 22 years.

For four decades, he was Mr. Delbarton — a legacy that should have been celebrated with a black-tie farewell dinner, a plaque and a tree planting. Instead, he said, he left the school with barely a goodbye in 2007 — three years after alleging abuse against his family.

Crane was calm throughout an hourlong interview as he discussed the allegations and the years of stonewalling by administrators he once considered friends.

When he first approached the school about the abuse, he was told, “We’ll get back to you.” Now, eight years later, his sons filed a complaint in Morris County Superior Court, two miles from the school. Among the allegations: genital groping and fondling, and introducing the boys to hard-core pornography and masturbation.

During the interview, Crane talked about “issues” and “problems.” He began two responses with “It’s not sour grapes” and “I’m not out to destroy the school.”

“Don’t be fooled by my father’s personality,” his son Tom said. “He is a man of few words, but when he uses those words, he’ll knock you back into a chair with nothing to say. He is not intimidated by anyone. Delbarton found that out.”

Bill Crane Sr. refused to denounce the men he believes seriously injured his sons — emotionally and spiritually — and apparently set them up for further abuse by another clergyman, Joseph Hanley, the former pastor of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Mendham. His sons were among roughly two dozen alleged victims who shared a $5 million settlement awarded by the Paterson Diocese in 2005.


Crane said he learned of the alleged abuses at Delbarton at different times — first, when Tom told him in 2004 that “something had happened with Father Capato.”

Years later, he learned that Bill Jr., too, allegedly had been abused by Capato. And then, weeks before the lawsuit was filed, the father learned that Tom had allegations to make against Travers, too.

After more than four decades at the school, Crane said he knows whose closets contain skeletons, but he won’t open them — yet.

“I probably should write a book,” he said. “It would show the abbey is trying to give one image to the outside world when there’s a whole other image on the inside.”

And that image?

“The culture,” he said.

Of sexual abuse?

“Yes, of sexual abuse.”

In total, five men have made allegations against Travers in the past year. The Star-Ledger has reported four of them (one was Crane’s son), and victims advocate Patrick Marker said there is one more alleged victim who has yet to come forward publicly. Crane said he saw it coming.

In 1995, Crane, then an administrator, said he was told by the abbot and headmaster to keep Travers “at arm’s length” from students because “he was being too touchy-feely.”

In 1997, Crane said, Travers was removed as junior class guidance counselor, although no reason was given.

“Your antenna goes up right away,” Crane said. “You think, ‘There’s more here.’ But I figured the powers that be would let me know if it was really serious.”

At one point, with more and more restrictions placed on monks for Crane to enforce, he said he told administrators he was done “protecting pedophiles.”

Then, in 1999, Travers was named headmaster — over objections by Crane and other faculty. When asked about Travers’ ascent despite alleged inappropriate behavior, Crane became animated:

“You got it! You got it!” he said. “No one else has connected those dots. It doesn’t make sense, right? You don’t want him around students, but you make him headmaster?”

Something else doesn’t make sense to Crane: the abbey’s review board, which secretly investigates alleged sex abuse. His sons claim the board denies abuse, bullies alleged victims, buys silence and buries cases. The panel, all three Cranes say, prevents the public from seeing the insidious behavior occurring behind the abbey walls.

When the school and abbey stalled, the Cranes filed a lawsuit and held a press conference on the courthouse lawn.

Crane said he “very proud of (his sons) for having the courage to come forward.” And often he’ll wonder, “What if?”

“Of course, I have guilt, but you want to change things,” he said. “You only have one lifetime to do that.

“I tell my sons, ‘You might actually be a gift to the school. You might help change things.’ I’m upset about what’s happened, but I can’t lose my perspective.”

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Father of men who filed sexual abuse lawsuit against Delbarton says monks betrayed his trust
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Kevin Manahan
The Star-Ledger