Delbarton Sex Abuse Lawsuits May Be First of a Wave, Raise New Questions about Abusers
By Abbott Koloff
New Jersey Herald
July 8, 2020
A new round of lawsuits filed against the order that runs the Delbarton School in Morris Township underscores questions about how allegedly abusive monks are being dealt with even now — with one still having voicemail at a residence on school grounds after being the subject of another lawsuit settled two years ago.
Attorneys filed six lawsuits Tuesday that contain new accusations of sexual abuse allegedly committed by five men who have been monks of St. Mary’s Abbey and the Order of St. Benedict and one former Delbarton lay teacher. This was the first wave, the attorneys said, of what is expected to be more than 20 such complaints.
The accused clerics are Timothy Brennan, Justin Capato, Donal Fox, Benedict Michael Worry and Malachy Robert Flavin. Also accused is a former teacher, Giacomo Pagano. All six men have been the subjects of prior sex abuse settlements made by the order.
Capato, Fox and Worry were accused in a 2015 civil complaint settled in 2018. Last year, a Catholic directory still listed all three as priests assigned to St. Mary’s Abbey. Worry has a phone extension at the abbey.
Fox died last year, a spokesman for the order said Tuesday. The order did not immediately answer questions about the status of Worry and Capato. St. Mary’s said years ago that Worry was living under restrictions in response to a complaint alleging misconduct in the 1990s, but has declined to provide more specific information.
Greg Gianforcaro, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in Tuesday’s filings, said he believes Worry “still resides on campus.” Worry did not respond Tuesday to a message seeking comment that was left on his voicemail at the abbey.
Five of the plaintiffs are former Delbarton students and one is a man who alleges he was abused by Worry after meeting him at St. John parish in Orange, in the Newark Archdiocese. The men all said they were abused as minors. The accusations stem from incidents that allegedly took place from the 1960s through the 1980s.
Three of the former Delbarton students used their names in the civil complaints and issued statements.
Joe Discher, a professional stage director and voice actor who lives in New Jersey, said he owed it to other abuse survivors to “publicly stand up and say this happened” so they will know “I will stand alongside them.” Discher said in his suit that he was abused by Brennan when he was 15 years old in the mid-1980s.
Michael O’Neill, who lives in the United Kingdom, said he chose “to be an advocate” for his “fellow Delbarton classmates.” O’Neill, whose suit said he was abused by Brennan and Capato in the 1980s, called for the release of personnel records of clerics accused of abuse. He said he knows “the trauma and how hard it is to actually admit what happened because of shame.”
Bob Sylverstein, who lives in North Carolina, was abused by Fox, Capato and Flavin in the 1980s, according to court papers.
“They stripped the trust from you, and that affects every aspect of your life,” he said. “They need to be held accountable even though it’s 30 years later.”
St. Mary’s issued a statement Monday evening after attorneys announced they would be filing the lawsuits.
“These accusations all date back several decades and name individuals who St. Mary’s Abbey/Delbarton School previously reported to the prosecutor’s office and were publicized in the media,” the statement said, adding that the order could not comment further because of pending litigation.
Victims’ advocates said they want more information about how the order has handled abuse allegations and the status of accused priests.
“They should be open about where they are and how they’re being monitored,” said Mark Crawford, the head of the New Jersey chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP. “If they are living on campus, how can they assure that these men can’t do further harm?”
Gianforcaro said the order has “always put the reputation of Delbarton above the safety of students,” adding that “they don’t seem to have learned from the past if Benedict Worry is still allowed to reside on campus.”
He said attorneys were preparing additional lawsuits against St. Mary’s for “numerous additional plaintiffs whose cases we will be filing soon.”
Two years ago, the abbey acknowledged that 13 monks had been accused of sexually abusing 30 people over the past three decades. They made that revelation in a letter to the school community after NorthJersey.com and the USA TODAY Network New Jersey published a story about the order settling five abuse lawsuits.
Tuesday’s lawsuits were the first to be filed against St. Mary’s since a law took effect Dec. 1, 2019, making it easier to bring sex abuse complaints by suspending the statute of limitations for two years. The law has led to dozens of suits being filed against the state’s five Catholic dioceses.
One other suit is pending against the abbey — and will be heard under the new law even though it was filed before it took effect. Attorneys for the abbey tried to block the case from moving forward by asking a judge to declare the suspension of the statute of limitations to be unconstitutional. The judge denied the request during a May hearing.
Brennan, a former Delbarton teacher and priest who died last year, was named in three suits filed Tuesday. He was the subject of nine lawsuits settled over the past two years and another settlement of more than $1 million many years ago. In 1987, he was sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to aggravated sexual contact with a 15-year-old Delbarton student.
Capato, named in two of Tuesday’s filings, had been accused of abuse in three other lawsuits settled in 2018. One of the prior suits also named Fox and Worry as alleged abusers. Pagano was named in a lawsuit that was settled in 2019.
Flavin, a former deacon, has not been the subject of a prior lawsuit — although Gianforcaro said the order has settled a claim against him.
St. Mary’s sent out a letter Monday night informing the Delbarton community of the new lawsuits, saying “more claims may be filed” under the new law. The letter was signed by Abbot Richard Cronin of St. Mary’s and Delbarton’s headmaster, the Rev. Michael Tidd.
“We recognize the pain and suffering inflicted on victims of sexual abuse,” the letter said, encouraging victims of abuse “to contact law enforcement and to file a claim.”
It went on to say the abbey and the school “are safe environments” and have been accredited by a company called Praesidium, which is based in Texas. The letter referred to the company as “an independent risk management and compliance organization that ensures best practices in abuse prevention.”
Crawford noted that the company has a connection to the abbey. Recently installed Auxiliary Bishop Elias Lorenzo of the Newark Archdiocese, a St. Mary’s monk, is a member of Praesidium’s religious advisory board.
“How on earth can it be considered independent?” Crawford asked of the company.
Gianforcaro said he has reached out to Praesidium about speaking to some of his clients who wanted to share their experiences at Delbarton, but that he never heard back.
The company did not respond on Tuesday to a message seeking comment.