Alum: Delbarton Sex Abuse Scandal Is Heartbreaking

By Bob McHugh
The Star-Ledger
April 4, 2012

Former Delbarton School Headmaster Luke Travers, pictured in this Star-Ledger file photo, is accused of sexual assault.

I wore the Latin motto "Succisa Virescit" meaning roughly, "Cut it down and it will grow back" on the breast pocket of my green blazer for the five years I attended Delbarton School. A classmate used to go around on the last day of the school year ripping off the pocket patches. I thought it was just a dumb high school prank. But now, I wonder if he wasn't right.

Mired in an ugly and expanding child-abuse scandal, my alma mater has certainly succeeded in cutting down its previously stellar reputation as an all-boys prep school. But, as school officials continue to bungle the handling of the scandal, who knows what will grow back?

These days, it can't be considered a surprise that the cancer of Catholic priests abusing young men has metastasized into the "hills of Morris," as our school song borrowed from Cornell's called the place. What is surprising and sad is that the men who run Delbarton, where annual tuition nears $30,000 and boys are routinely sent to Harvard and Yale, can be so dumb.

For more than 70 years, the "Del," as we called it, has been run by black-robed monks from the Order of St. Benedict, the Catholic saint considered to be the founder of Western monasticism.

Even trying to put utter hypocrisy aside, the Catholic Church's handling of decades of claims of sexual abuse and cover-ups is their greatest PR blunder since the Inquisition. Nobody expects church leaders to do anything but obfuscate.

Still, it was shocking to read an e-mail from the Delbarton monks' leader calling the first allegations, essentially unwanted hugs and kisses by a monk to a student, "a minor boundary violation." More shocking are the facts that early warnings of unacceptable behavior were swept aside, a la Penn State, and that the monk at the center of the scandal was promoted to headmaster.

As the allegations have spread to a second monk and to five boys, the response from the abbot and his St. Mary's Abbey community has gone from inept and insensitive to the ever-predictable "no comment" because a lawsuit has been filed.

The monks and the Delbarton community are, of course, innocent until proven guilty, both in the courts of public opinion and New Jersey; but consider that the former headmaster was removed by the order from a subsequent administrative post elsewhere and instructed to stay away from young men. The abbot, albeit in the midst of health problems, resigned from heading a religious leaders' group during calls for his removal.

And then there's the heartbreaking story of the Crane family.

Bill Crane Sr., now 69 and retired, came to Delbarton in 1964 and stayed for 43 years as a teacher, member of the board of trustees and assistant headmaster. His twin sons, now 46, attended the school and lived on campus. Last month, they brought a suit against the abbey claiming abuse by the former headmaster and another monk. In a moving interview with The Star-Ledger, the elder Crane recalled his first day on the job: "As I stepped out of the car, I said to myself, 'Now, this seems like a great place.' Knowing what I know now, I would have shut the door and driven away in a hurry."

Crane's breaking faith with Delbarton is no less dramatic than a cardinal of the church throwing off his red robes a deep and hurtful schism, to use one of the church's own words.

About two weeks ago, I received by mail a glossy, 60-page booklet, detailing by name and dollar amount, contributions to Delbarton in 2011. They totaled more than $5 million.

I was disgusted by the bad taste and clueless timing, just as I am brought low by the betrayal of Crane, my ninth-grade science teacher and a guy I admired. But mostly, while I can no longer say I am shocked to see Catholic churchmen hide from what appears to be the truth, I am truly sad that the men who run Delbarton stand watching their work all of our work cut down.

Bob McHugh graduated from Delbarton School in 1970. He was a reporter for The Star-Ledger and the Associated Press, and served as spokesman for Govs. Tom Kean and Christie Whitman, U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.