Under Investigation Since June 2011
In a statement released Thursday, Rev. Giles Hayes, the abbot at St. Mary's, said the incidents involved "a minor boundary violation with an adult" and that his conduct "was not criminal." Anthony S. Cicatiello, a spokesman for the St. Mary's Abbey that runs Delbarton School, claims the church has been investigating Father Luke Travers since June 2011.
While Father Travers is under investigation, the Rev. Adrian Harmenning has replaced him as administrator at the Virginia abbey.
Delbarton is an elite college preparatory academy situated in Morristown, New Jersey. Travers, a Benedictine monk and former administrator at Mary Mother of the Church Abbey in Virginia is under investigation while he was headmaster for sexual misconduct.
According to Hayes, the complaint was turned over to the local prosecutor's office, which declined to press charges. Capt. Jeff Paul, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office, declined to comment on whether or not Travers was under active investigation.
The letter came from a Washington man named Patrick Marker, who advocates for victims of sexual misconduct within the church. Two victims of Traver's attentions had reached out to him in the past few months and Marker was demanding that the church take action.
One victim claimed in the 1980s, then-headmaster Luke Travers had grabbed his crotch and butt and asked him inappropriate questions about his girlfriend. The former student was then about 14 years old.
Another, according to NBC, stated that Travers "crossed boundaries which betrayed the inherent trust which is sacred to his position as a teacher and a priest." According to the victim, who alleged that the first incidents began in the 1990s, Travers became more aggressive when the boy came to him after his father died. According to the letter, Travers offered the high schooler and began kissing his neck and ears.
When the young man tried to get him to stop, Travers kept going. "[He said there was] nothing wrong with what he was doing, because he loved me," the second victim wrote. When the second victim returned to Delbarton after graduating, he claims that Travers asked the adult teen to run away with him.
According to Marker, who says he himself was abused in 1983 at a Minnesota prep school run by Benedictine monks, Travers is a sexual predator, a monk who has been grooming victims for his sexual abuse for years without reprisal.
'It was a shock to us.'
According to church official, Travers only visited the abbey a few times a month, and remains a resident of New Jersey. Although the Richmond, Va. abbey owns and operates Benedictine College Preparatory school, Harmenning claims that Travers had no personal contact with the students.
But while the Benedictine monk may not have been involved in the abbey's prep school, Travers had been allowed to say Mass for students over the past few months, despite being under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct.
According to Cicatiello, at Delbarton, Travers has been under investigation for months, and had been placed under restrictions that barred him from contact with anyone under 25. He was not supposed to have any contact with students, and was banned from saying Mass for anyone other than his fellow monks.
If that was the case, however, Harmenning never heard of it. According to him, the Virginia abbey knew nothing about Travers' restrictions, or that he was under investigation, until the fateful letter arrived.
"It was a shock to us as much as it was to anybody else," Harmenning said.
Travers Returns to New Jersey Monastery
According to the Paterson Diocese website, Father Travers was ordained in 1986 at St. Mary's Abbey in Morris Township.
He received a bachelor's degree from Columbia University in 1979, a master's degree in theology from The Catholic University of America in 1984 and a master's of education degree from Harvard in 1999.
He served Notre Dame of Mount Carmel Church in Cedar Knolls and Corpus Christi Church in Chatham Township before becoming headmaster at Delbarton.
Harmenning said the Rev. Luke Travers had returned to his New Jersey monastery while the church conducted its investigation. A message there was not immediately returned.
'...what really happened behind those walls.'
Patrick Marker, having learned of the Mary Mother of the Church Abbey's response, said he was pleased by their quick reaction.
"It's not a bold move, it's the right move," he said of . "It's a move he [Harmenning] should have never had to make if the officials in New Jersey and the officials of the American Cassinese Congregation [which oversees both abbeys] had done their job."
Mark Serrano, a national advocate for sex abuse victims, was similarly furious with church officials at Delbarton and those higher up in the ACC, saying their handling of the allegations is suspicious at best and questioning why they didn't inform the Va. abbey of the investigation into Travers that began in June.
"I wouldn't trust the school's characterization of the incidents as 'minor' until we know all the facts," Serrano told NJ.com. "In the meantime, we must make sure Travers has no contact with children."
Marker, meanwhile, is preparing for the brunt of the Delbarton and St. Mary's "PR machine and legal team." He feels he's more than prepared for whatever they throw his way.
"I'm ready for it," he said, noting how hard it can be for victims of sexual "misconduct" to come forward when faced with the institutional might of the Church and a place like Delabarton school.
"I've got victims who are calling me, crying about the relationships and about what really happened behind those walls."