A Benedictine monk who headed a Virginia abbey was removed from his position over allegations of sexual misconduct while he was assigned to a prestigious New Jersey preparatory school.
The Rev. Luke Travers was replaced Wednesday after a letter was sent to church officials outlining sexual misconduct claims by two male former students at New Jersey's Delbarton School, an elite prep school attended by Gov. Chris Christie's son. Travers was headmaster at Delbarton School from 1999 through 2007, and he taught at the school before and after that time.
One alleged victim claims that Travers grabbed his crotch and butt and asked him inappropriate questions about his girlfriend in the 1980s, when he was about 14. According to the letter, another claims that Travers "crossed boundaries which betrayed the inherent trust which is sacred to his position as a teacher and a priest" while he was a student at Delbarton around 1990. The man says that he returned to Delbarton after graduating, where Travers offered him alcohol and kissed his neck and ears. When the man said he protested the affection, he said Travers told him there was "nothing wrong with what he was doing because he loved me."
St. Mary's Abbey in Morristown, N.J., which runs Delbarton, has been investigating the incident involving the adult since June, said Anthony S. Cicatiello, a spokesman for the abbey.
In a statement released Thursday, the Rev. Giles Hayes, abbot of St. Mary's Abbey, called the incident "a minor boundary violation with an adult." Hayes said the complaint was turned over to the local prosecutor's office, which declined to press charges against Travers. The Morris County, N.J., prosecutor's office refused to comment.
"This is a personal matter and a matter that involves potential litigation, therefore it would be inappropriate to make any comments from me," Hayes told the AP.
Travers, 55, had served as non-residential administrator of Mary Mother of the Church Abbey in Richmond, Va., since 2010, visiting the abbey a few days each month, said the Rev. Adrian Harmenning, who replaced Travers as administrator.
Both St. Mary's Abbey and Mary Mother of the Church Abbey fall under the American Cassinese Congregation.
The Richmond abbey owns and operates Benedictine College Preparatory school, but Harmenning said Travers had no personal contact with students.
"It was a shock to us as much as it was to anybody else," Harmenning said.
As part of the investigation, Travers was placed under restrictions that barred him from contact with anyone under 25, prohibited contact with students and banned him from saying mass for anyone other than fellow monks, Cicatiello said.
But Harmenning said the Richmond abbey knew nothing of the restrictions, and that Travers had been allowed to say Mass for students at Benedictine in recent months.
"If we knew he was under restriction he wouldn't have been able to say Mass or anything here," Harmenning said.
Cicatiello said it was unclear if Travers' restrictions were revealed to the Richmond abbey.
Harmenning said Travers returned to his New Jersey monastery. A message there was not immediately returned.
According to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, N.J., Travers is a native of New York City who was ordained in 1986. The Harvard graduate also served at Notre Dame of Mount Carmel Church, Cedar Knolls and Corpus Christi Church in New Jersey.
The allegations came to light in a letter sent by Patrick Marker, a Washington man who advocates for victims of monk misconduct. Marker said Thursday that one of the victims reached out to him a few months ago, and that he heard from the other last month.
Marker said he was pleased that church officials took such quick action.
"It's not a bold move, it's the right move," he said. "It's a move he should have never had to make if the officials in New Jersey and the officials of the American Cassinese Congregation had done their job.
Marker, who says he was abused in 1983 while at a Minnesota prep school run by Benedictine monks, said it is difficult for victims to come forward for fear of sullying the name of the prestigious schools. But he said school and church administrators must be willing to investigate the allegations, no matter how embarrassing.
"I'm preparing for the brunt of the Delbarton and St. Mary's PR machine and legal team," he said. "I'm ready for it, because I've got victims who are calling me, crying about the relationships and about what really happened behind those walls."