Thirteen Benedictine monks and one lay teacher associated with a New Jersey religious order have been accused of sexually abusing people in cases that go back decades, leaders of the group admitted in a letter.
The heads of Morristown’s St. Mary’s Abbey and the Delbarton School, which is run by the abbey’s monks, said that 30 people have come forward with accusations of assaults from 1968 to 1999.
It was an attempt at transparency by the abbey’s Abbot Richard Cronin and the school’s headmaster, Michael Tidd, who is also a member of the order. The letter, posted to the school’s website, is the first acknowledgment of the broad scope of the problem by the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey at its all-boys Catholic prep school, according to NJ Advance Media.
The accusations have sparked at least 15 lawsuits since 2012 ― eight of which have been settled, with the remainder pending.
“Our hearts are full of compassion for the victims of sexual abuse, and we applaud the courage of those who have had the strength to step forward and speak about their experiences,” Cronin and Tidd wrote in the letter, dated July 20.
They said their letter was prompted by several local news stories about the settlements. The two leaders said payments for the court settlements have come from insurance coverage and not from donations to the school or abbey. The amounts of the settlements have not been released.
The Delbarton School is an independent Catholic school for boys in seventh through 12th grades. It was founded in 1939 by monks of St. Mary’s Abbey.
The sexual abuse allegations come from former Delbarton students, former students of the St. Elizabeth of Hungary School in Linden, and a parishioner at a local Catholic church. A Delbarton employee’s twin sons who lived on the grounds as children have also lodged accusations against the school.
The alleged victims started coming forward in the late 1980s. Cronin and Tidd claim the abbey took disciplinary measures against accused monks and notified Morris County prosecutors. Only one case resulted in criminal charges.
The Rev. Timothy Brennan, a former teacher at Delbarton, was convicted in 1987 of abusing a teenage student. He was sentenced to one year of probation, NorthJersey.com reports, and now lives in a treatment center for priests in Missouri. According to The Associated Press, he has admitted to abusing 50 boys.
Cronin and Tidd tried to assure alumni, current students and their parents that Delbarton has implemented new standards to ensure children’s safety. The school now does fingerprint and background checks on monastery candidates, gives the monks annual abuse prevention training and undergoes regular audits by Praesidium, a company that helps institutions set up protocols to prevent child abuse.
Starting with the upcoming school year, students at Delbarton will be required to take a child safety webinar that will help the boys recognize and defend against abusive behavior.
“Above all, we want you to understand that protecting the well-being of the students of Delbarton and all those to whom we minister is our highest and most important priority,” Cronin and Tidd wrote.
They claimed that “no restrictions have been placed on the victims’ ability to discuss their experiences.” But Bill Wolfe, whose accusations resulted in Brennan’s conviction, said the school locked him into a nondisclosure agreement for decades.
Wolfe wasn’t allowed to publicly discuss his abuse until 2014, when he won a court battle to free himself from some of the confidentiality agreement’s terms. He’s still not allowed to speak about the amount of a 1988 settlement he received.
As a result, he told NJ Advance Media, he has little faith in the school’s latest attempt at transparency.
“They fought me every step of the way. They attacked my family. They attacked my parents and they attacked me. They sued my attorney for representing me,” Wolfe said. “So the idea they’ve been open and honest and compassionate, that’s not been my experience. I’ve lived a lifetime of anxiety and far from being allowed to speak about it, I’m still not allowed to speak about some issues.”