Prestigious N.J. Catholic School Hit with More Lawsuits Alleging Students Were Sexually Abused
By Joe Atmonavage
NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
July 8, 2020
|Remnants of historic columns are seen at the Delbarton School, a private Catholic school run by the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey.ROBERT SCIARRINO/ STAR-LEDGER|
Six lawsuits alleging former employees at a prestigious Morris County Catholic school sexually abused minors were filed Tuesday and more than a dozen additional lawsuits will be added in the coming weeks, an attorney representing the victims said.
The lawsuits, filed against Delbarton School, an all-boys school in Morristown, St. Mary’s Abbey and the order that runs the school, St. Benedicts of New Jersey, allege that minors dating back to the 1960s were sexually abused by former employees of the school. The suits were filed in state Superior Court in Morris County.
Greg Gianforcaro, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the new cases, said he expects additional lawsuits to be filed “soon.”
The Delbarton School has been the subject of a number of lawsuits in recent years by former students who allege they were sexually abused by clerics at the school. Gianforcaro said he has settled at least 15 cases on behalf of sexual abuse survivors against the Delbarton School since 2004.
“This institution cared more about their reputation than they did about the students in the school,” Gianforcaro said about the number of cases filed against the school.
The number of lawsuits filed against the Delbarton School and the order that runs it is expected to increase as a result of the New Jersey Child Sexual Abuse Act, which went into effect last December and vastly expanded the statue of limitations for victims to sue their alleged abusers and the institutions tasked with supervising them.
Tuesday’s lawsuits were able to be filed because of the new law, Gianforcaro said.
The lawsuits name Timothy Brennan, Justin Capato, Donal Fox, Benedict Worry and Malachy Robert Flavin, who were monks of the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey, as well as Giacomo Pagano, a former lay teacher at the school.
In a letter to the Delbarton school community this week, Abbot Richard Cronin, the president of the Delbarton School, and Father Michael Tidd, the headmaster, said all six men have been “accused in previous cases.”
Brennan, who died last year, was the subject of at least nine lawsuits in recent years alleging he sexually abused children, according to previous reporting by NJ Advance Media.
In the new lawsuit, Brennan is accused of sexually abusing a 15-year-old student at the Delbarton School from about 1984 to 1985.
Gianforcaro said another troubling revelation is that Worry, who is accused of sexually abusing a minor from about 1978 to 1979, continues to live on campus. Worry was named in a lawsuit in 2015 that eventually settled, according to online court records.
“It shows there is a callous disregard for the safety of students,” Gianforcaro said.
A spokesman for the Delbarton School confirmed to NJ Advance Media that Worry lives on the Morris Township campus “with restrictions on his travel and has no student contact.”
“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 spokesman said in a statement. “Because these cases are now involved in litigation, St. Mary’s Abbey/Delbarton School cannot comment further.”
The other clerics accused in the lawsuits filed Tuesday — Fox, Capato and Flavin — are accused of sexually abusing minors in the 1980s, according to the lawsuits. Pagano, the lay teacher, is accused of sexual abuse of a minor from 1968 to 1969, according to the lawsuit.
Fox is believed to be dead, according to the attorneys in this case. The others could not be reached for comment. Donald Okner, who has represented the Delbarton School in previous cases alleging sexual abuse by clerics, declined to comment.
“Prestige and secrecy can no longer obscure the peril hidden in the halls and history of Delbarton School,” attorney Jeff Anderson said in a statement. “These brave survivors are pulling back the curtain to expose a real, immediate threat to children entrusted to the care of the school and the Order of St. Benedict.”
Top school officials acknowledged the new lawsuits in the letter to the school community this week and that more lawsuits against the school may be filed under the new state law.
“We recognize the pain and suffering inflicted on victims of sexual abuse. We continue to encourage anyone who believes that he or she has been a victim of abuse at St. Mary’s Abbey or Delbarton School to contact law enforcement and to file a claim,” the statement said.
The school leaders said “St. Mary’s Abbey and Delbarton School are safe environments” and touted their accreditation by Praesidium, “an independent risk management and compliance organization that ensures best practices in abuse prevention.”
However, Gianforcaro said he has reached out to Praesidium multiple times to ask the organization to interview more than a dozen clients he represents who alleged they were sexually abused by clerics at the school, but he has never heard back from the organization.
“Unless and until they speak to the survivors of abuse, that accreditation means absolutely nothing,” Gianforcaro said.
Praesidium’s president Aaron Lundberg confirmed that the Delbarton School was accredited in June 2019. He declined to comment further.
In 2018, Delbarton school officials publicly acknowledged in a letter to the community that that 30 individuals had alleged abuse by 13 past or current priests and monks at the school, and one retired lay faculty member, over the course of three decades. The Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey has settled at least nine child sexual abuse suits since 2018, according to previous reporting by NJ Advance Media.
The school attempted to dismiss a lawsuit in May filed under the New Jersey Child Sexual Abuse Act, arguing the new law is unconstitutional because it removed statutes of limitation, but state Superior Court Judge Peter A. Bogaard rejected the argument.
This story has been updated with a comment from Praesidium.
Staff writer Rebecca Everett contributed to this report.
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Joe Atmonavage may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.